Archive for the ‘Case in Point’ Category

WHY A TREATY: Russia Decriminalizes Domestic Violence

Recent changes to Russian law demonstrate need for a treaty


In early February, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed legislation that decriminalized some forms of domestic violence. Everywoman Everywhere Coalition members—Russian attorney Mari Davtyan and longtime Russian activist Marina Pisklakova-Parker—share what this means for Russian women and how a treaty would help.


Mari DavtyanAttorney Mari Davtyan works with the Russian National Center for Prevention of Violence, also known as Center Anna, to promote women’s right, among other groups working on campaigns to end discrimination and promote human rights:

The first two months after decriminalization show us the situation with access to justice for survivors of domestic violence has become worse. Among other things, the lack of an administrative procedure permit judges dismiss cases or only fine the offenders, give them community service or up to 15 days in custody. Rights of victims are very limited. For example, victims don’t have a right or a vehicle to express complaint. Police officers claim that decriminalization has made their work more complicated and slow.

Today the first act of battery is considered an offense. A second act is considered criminal if it’s done within a year of the first offense. But even then, it remains “private prosecution.” Private prosecution means cases are not investigated by the police, the charge is not introduced by a prosecutor, and the victim is her own private counsel who must independently investigate the crime, collect evidence, and prosecute the case in court. This renders justice for domestic violence survivors completely ineffective.

Russia is a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but it often ignores its obligations under international law. Even if it did, the treaty itself is not specific to violence against women. We can only point to the recommendations of the committee that monitor implementation, which are not legally binding. Furthermore, the committee expressed its concern that cases of violence against women are a private matter. A new, global treaty would give myself, other lawyers and advocates the legal tool we lack to pressure our government to strengthen our national laws on domestic violence. It could also help ensure that women and girls who are survivors of violence have access to immediate means of redress and protection, and that perpetrators are prosecuted and adequately punished.


Marina-PisklakovaMarina Pisklákova-Parker is the director and founder of Center Anna, Russia’s first hotline and crisis center for survivors of domestic violence:

The change to decriminalization is also bad in terms of public perception and awareness. It sent a signal to society that domestic violence is a norm for Russia. And there is fear it increased incidents of violence, as there was an increase in the number of cases reported in some regions of up to two times.

Working on domestic violence has become more difficult for women’s organizations. In an environment of governmental neglect and an aggressive stance against addressing violence against women, the level of threat for women-activists is now higher. Women’s human rights activists always had a double threat, one from the government, and another from the conservative patriarchal part of society that resists our efforts. Now, with less legal recourse, it becomes in a way more legitimate to attack activists and women’s NGOs in the media and via threats. A treaty could help create a global climate that views domestic violence as a criminal act, not a family matter.

Case in Point: The Boy Effect

the boy effect







How boy’s and men’s education is proving an effective intervention in preventing violence against women.

How do you change millennia old norms that encourage gross violations of women’s human rights? That is the ever elusive billion-dollar question. While the research on effective interventions is scant at best, a recent research review published in The Lancet points to some promising answers, some surprising. For instance, experts attribute a 53% decrease in intimate partner violence in the United States between 1993 and 2008 to the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which allocated billions to prevention and community based programs.

Of the few interventions worldwide studied with scientific rigor, some of the most promising targeted boys and men either with women’s rights education, or as integrated into other programming, such as micro-lending or HIV education.

1. School-based programs focused on dating violence showed significant results compared to control groups in “reductions in both perpetration and victimization of dating violence in both boys and girls in the intervention groups.” While programs aimed at reforming perpetrators still show very few successes.

2. When a boys education program developed in Brazil was implemented in India, participants were two to five times less likely to report sexual or physical intimate partner violence than the control group. While similar programs in Ethiopia and the Balkans did not show statistically significant results, the study suggests this may be due to differences in the “intensity and duration of the intervention.” More research may reveal what elements of these programs are most promising.

3. In Cote d’Ivoire when men and women together regularly attended economic empowerment groups that included education on violence against women, physical intimate partner violence was significantly reduced.

4. Randomized trials of multi-faceted SASA! program in Kampala, Uganda showed a 54% reduction in intimate partner violence.

While these studies are extremely limited, and raise vital questions about attitude versus behavior change, they nonetheless hold promise: That elusive norm change is possible, when men and women alike are educated and fully engaged in solutions.

What could this mean for Everywoman Everywhere? In our initial surveys with experts on potential treaty content, prevention and education tops the list. What if governments entered legally binding obligations to fund mass-scale women’s rights education, informed by the best research, catered to local contexts, and delivered through local partners, targeting men and women alike? If these initial studies are any indication, it seems it just might take us a fair bit down the road to curbing atrocities against women and girls, everywhere.

For more on this topic, read Prevention of violence against women and girls: What does the evidence say? The Lancet, Nov. 2014.

Image credit Jennifer Newsom, in her film The Mask You Live In.

Case in Point: Maria da Pehna vs. Brazil

The Inter-American Human Rights System and Violence Against Women: Norms, Compliance Mechanisms, Jurisprudence, Implementation, Lessons Learned, and Recommendations

International Human Rights Clinic at Santa Clara University School of Law
Clinic Director: Francisco Rivera
Supervising Attorney: Britton Schwartz


“In 2001, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decided María da Penha v. Brazil – the first decision where the Inter-American Human Rights System applied the Convention of Belém do Pará, as well as the first case where the Commission analyzed domestic violence against women as a human rights violation. This case is also significant because it demonstrates the effectiveness of the Commission’s individual complaint mechanism in pushing Brazil to make significant changes in its legal framework on domestic violence as a direct response to the Commission’s recommendations in this decision. Both the case and the reforms adopted by Brazil highlight the need for an integrated approach towards addressing the systemic problems – such as ineffective prosecutions of abusers – that contribute to individual acts of violence against women.”

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