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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.

The Recommendations Are In!

Global approach leading to a more effective treaty


More than a year ago, women around the world formed committees to begin the difficult process of determining what, specifically, should be included in a global treaty on violence against women. Did it need a clearer definition of violence? A list of types of violence? How could the treaty address the implementation issues other treaties have faced? And what tools and examples could help nations better prevent violence in the first place?

The 124 women and men on the committees brought a wide-range of experience and points of view. They consisted of advocates, policy experts, practitioners, researchers and survivors from 50 countries—Sierra Leone to Pakistan, Mexico to China. “It has been all too common for treaties to be developed by a small group of people, which limits the perspectives and therefore the effectiveness of the treaty,” says Millicent Bogert, an Everywoman Everywhere volunteer who helped coordinate meetings. “An international approach is more rigorous, impactful, and even more ‘ratifiable,’ when is informed by the knowledge and expertise of women in all corners of the globe.”

The global approach adds what has been missing from past efforts: voices from the grassroots. When traditional top-down pressure is met with the force of women and men in each country pushing their governments to improve responses to and prevention of violence against women and girls, a treaty has a greater chance of being effective.

Committees met via teleconference under five umbrella topics—types of violence, vulnerable groups, life stages, prevention and implementation (see below for a full list). Members presented what they’d found digging into previous treaties and spent the bulk of their time weighing language and defining terms. What falls under “domestic violence”? What qualifies as a “conflict”? The result was a “wish list” for the treaty—17 detailed memos on what’s needed in a global treaty on violence against women.

The full 386-page document is now in the hands of the Drafting Committee, which will spend a year reviewing and integrating the key findings in to a core platform. The core platform will then be sent to 1,000 additional experts for input before official drafting begins.

A huge thanks and Bravo! for the groundbreaking work done by each member of the Expert Committees:

TYPES OF VIOLENCE: Simi Kamal (and Zainab), Pakistan; Marina Pisklákova-Parker, Russia; Ghada Hammam, Egypt; Katarzyna Sękowska-Kozłowska, Poland; Virginia Muwanigwa, Zimbabwe; Tanyi Christian, Cameroon; Cristina Ricci, Australia; Ghada Hammam, Egypt; Uuree Uuriintsolmon, Mongolia; Sopheap Ros, Cambodia; Sheena Kanwar, Singapore; Adolf Awuku Bekoe, Ghana; Valerie Khan, Pakistan; Pei Yuxin, China; Taskin Fahmina, Bangladesh; Monica McWilliams, Ireland; Jeanne Sarson, Canada; Peg Hacskaylo, USA; Dr. Denise Kindschi Gosselin, USA; Khedija Arfaoui, Tunisia; Katarzyna Sękowska-Kozłowska, Poland; Kelly Jones (Burundi), USA; Angela Hefti, Switzerland; Hauwa Shekarau, Nigeria; Anyieth D’Awol, South Sudan; Manizha Naderi, Afghanistan; Virginia Muwanigwa, Zimbabwe; Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Nigeria; Joanna Smętek, Poland; Gaby Razafindrakoto, Madagascar; Reena Tandon, Canada; Laurie Tannous, Canada; Tanyi Christian, Cameroon; Jo-Anne Dusel, Canada; Shawn MacDonald, USA; Michal Sela, Israel; Orit Sulitzeanu, Israel; Carolyn Rodehau, USA; David Wofford, USA; VULNERABLE GROUPS COMMITTEE: Violeta Momcilovic, Serbia;  Alice Nenneh James, Sierra Leone; Debbie Gross, Israel; Reem Abbas, Sudan; Stephanie Baric , USA ; Zainab Umu Kamara, Sierra Leone; Sandra Johansson, Spain; Reem Abbas, Sudan; Heidi Guldbaek, Australia; Caroline Herewini, New Zealand; Hazel Hape, New Zealand; Ruth Howlett, New Zealand; Anne Todd, New Zealand; Dorinda Cox, Australia; Kelly Stoner, USA; Kamilia Kura, Sudan; Kabann Kabananukye, Uganda; Yolanda Munoz Gonzalez, Canada; Martha Jean Baker, England; Martha Tholanah, Zimbabwe; Gcebile Ndlovu, Swaziland; Talent Jumo, Zimbabwe; Ricky Nathanson, Zimbabwe; Erika Castellanos, Belize; Miriam Banda/Kateka, Zambia; Truffy Maginnis, Adelaide; Margie Charlesworth, Australia; Savina Nongebatu, Solomon Islands; Yolanda Munoz Gonzalez, Canada; Truffy Maginnis, Australia; Stephanie Ortoleva, USA; Cristina Ricci, Australia; LIFE STAGES, Obioma Nwaorgu, Nigeria; Azra Abdul Cader, Sri Lanka; Munara Beknazarova, Kyrgyzstan; Fadoua Bakhadda, Morocco; Anu Radha, India; Safeer Ullah Khan, Pakistan; Keerty Nakray, India; Stephanie Kennedy, USA; Margaret Owen, England; Judy Lear, USA; Patricia Brownell, USA; Eleanor Nwadinobi, Nigeria; Helen Hamlin, USA; Meera Khanna, India; Lois Herman, Italy; Asmaa Al Ameen, Iraq; Heather Ibraham-Leathers, USA; Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, Nigeria; Aabha Chaudhury, India; Sara Winkowski, USA; Ferdous Ara Begum, Bangladesh; IMPLEMENTATION, Francisco Rivera, USA; Ronagh McQuigg, Ireland; Stephanie Willman Bordat, Morocco; Laura Nyirinkindi, Uganda; Gulnara Mammadova, Azerbaijan; Vanessa Bettinson, UK; Shazia Choudhry, UK; Rhona Modesto San Pedro, Philippines; Amy Barrow, Hong Kong; Petra Butler, New Zealand; Tevita Seruilumi, Fiji; Claire Hammerton, Australia; Felicity Gerry, Australia; Karen Willis, Australia; Joyce Hewett, Jamaica; Natalie Wade, Australia; Dinah Adiko, Ghana; David L Richards, USA; Cristina Ricci, Australia; PREVENTION: Gladys Mbuyah Luku, Cameroon; Medea Khmelidze, Georgia; Margaret Nwagbo, Nigeria; Manisha Desai, USA; Zynab Binta Senesie, Sierra Leone; Lu Pin, China; Vanessa Coria, Mexico; Suntariya Muanpawong, Thailand; Halah Eldoseri, Saudi Arabia; Susan Harris Rimmer, Australia; Lisa Hoffman, USA; Sisi Liu, Hong Kong; Ann-Marie Loebel, Australia; Heidi Guldbaek, Australia; EVERYWOMAN EVERYWHERE SUPPORTING TEAM MEMBERS: Natalie Eslick, Australia; Caitlin O’Quinn, USA; Maria Pachon, USA; Seden Anlar, Turkey; Victoria O’Neil, USA; Amany Elgarf, Egypt; Rachel Uemoto, USA; Vidya Sri, USA; Millicent Bogert, USA.



Types of Violence: Domestic Violence, Non-State Torture, State Sponsored Violence, Trafficking and Slavery, and Workplace Violence

Vulnerable Groups: Violence in Conflict, Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls, Violence Against Disabled Women and Girls, Inclusive groups, which focused on women and girls living with HIV/AIDS, sex workers and LBTQI women and girls

Life Stages: Violence Against Girls and Students, Violence Against Older Women, and Violence Against Widows of All Ages

Prevention: Advocacy / Rights-Based, and Training and Mandatory Education

Implementation: Implementation Assessment, Governing Bodies

Rashida’s Parting Words

June 2015 marked the end of Rashida Manjoo’s tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, and true to form, her powerful final report ends with a bold call to action: “Transformative change requires a shift in thinking as regards normativity, and it requires commitment, courage and an ethic of care that supersedes vested interests and entrenched territorial positions. Change requires the challenging of the status quo, including the continued recourse to arguments that were used 20 years ago to avoid addressing the normative gap under international human rights law. Transformative change requires that the words and actions of States reflect an acknowledgement that violence against women is a human rights violation, in and of itself and, more importantly, it requires a commitment by States to be bound by specific legal obligations in the quest to prevent and eliminate such violence.”

Click here to read the report in full

“What My Religion Really Says About Women.” ALAA MURABIT’s Powerful TED Talk

Bravo to peace expert, women’s right’s activist, and Everywoman Everywhere Middle East Working Group Member Alaa Murabit for her powerful TED Talk at TED Women 2015 in May: “Strong faith is a core part of Alaa Murabit’s identity — but when she moved from Canada to Libya as a young woman, she was surprised how the tenets of Islam were used to severely limit women’s rights, independence and ability to lead. She wondered: Was this really religious doctrine? With humor, passion and a refreshingly rebellious spirt, she shares how she found examples of female leaders across the history of her faith — and how she speaks up for women using verses from the Koran.”

Why a Treaty? Puja Kapai

Presented 4th March, 2015

Puja KapaiI wanted to look at this question from the perspective of what the CEDAW does not offer or what existing frameworks do not offer, and how that can help drive an argument for why we need a dedicated treaty for violence against women.

CEDAW doesn’t expressly mention VAW. Despite this, advocates have long relied on the treaty and its various provisions as indirectly signaling a call for an end to violence. The argument was predicated on the basis that in order to meet the CEDAW obligations a state part must necessarily address any barriers or impediments to women’s access to a full range of rights that are enshrined in CEDAW. In these circumstances the focus of CEDAW’s articles is being on achieving equality and non-discrimination, as without freedom from violence women would not be able to enjoy these fundamental rights. Advocates frequently use Article 5 which speaks to the issue of culture and tradition impacting equality as a systemic issue whereviolence is condoned in a particular cultural context. To supplement these arguments advocates refer to the general recommendation 19 which is very useful and very comprehensive, and has formed the bulk of the advocacy work withinthis framework. In 1993 the first international human rights document that was dedicated to the subject of VAW was passed as a Resolution of the UN – the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women – it is a fairly comprehensive document again, which would serve as a useful reference point for any treaty drafted. The declaration identified and defined relevant issues pertaining to VAW in all its manifestations. It is a progressive and groundbreaking document that followed the CEDAW and mapped out the concerns we’ve seen arising in the context of work relating to VAW. Despite these resources, there has been little success in bringing states to account effectively, especially given rising figures pertaining to VAW around the world. State parties often argue that their criminal and civil laws adequately provide for a protective framework and remedies against such violence, and that any violence that continues to be perpetrated is a social problem that needs to be tackled, and that they aredoing as much as possible in terms of the law.

However, pitching violence as a form of discrimination against women, and thereby undermining equal access to otherrights, is not the strongest argument to compel states into action to eradicate violence. The perpetration of violence is systemic and structural. Culture as well as the way in which society and its institutions are organised perpetuate these structural and systemic hierarchies of domination in the social sphere and personal sphere. To rely on discrimination as a route to tackle violence, therefore, fails to broach the issue head-on: that violence and the systems that enable its perpetuation or manifestation without redress is unacceptable, not for its discriminatory impact on women but for various other significant reasons grounded in our preexisting human rights commitments, including inherent dignity of all human beings. Thus, the present framework represents only a tangential link between the CEDAW framework and what we’re seeking to achieve insofar as our goal is to hold states accountable for recognising violence in its various manifestations and addressing violence against women comprehensively and effectively. What we are looking for is a comprehensive framework that can address each aspect of political and social life that contributes to the vulnerability of women in general but also, particular groups of women, and their being prone to being victims of violence. Discrimination is not the strongest argument to rely on, and yet these are the terms that the existing discourse is largely limited to because of the framing of VAW under the CEDAW framework given that it is not specifically addressed. In these circumstances, the argument would be that a treaty dedicated to VAW would serve a distinct and focused purpose but would also be multifaceted in its coverage of a range issues pertaining to VAW and be concerned with outcome-oriented approaches to justice in response to VAW and its eradication.

What will such a treaty look like? How will it address these fundamental gaps in the discourse? A binding treaty will concretize emerging customary international consensus on responsibility to protect vulnerable groups, which we have seen emerging over the last decade or so, particularly for women and girls. By institutionalizing the principle to protect within a treaty, you then have a mechanism to hold the state parties accountable to the high standards laid out in the treaty, and that mechanism would then ensure more systematic and coherent processes for accountabilitycompared to what we see currently in the reporting process, where VAW is reported as part and parcel of the CEDAW framework or other international treaty instruments that states are a party to. The treaty itself would imbibe a mechanism to be used as a tool for evaluating state performance in relation to the different aspects of the responsibility to protect women and girls from a range of types of VAW from time to time during the reporting cycle, to have a more targeted review of states fulfilling obligations than what we have at the moment. Such a principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ would entail a need to put in motion various institutions and processes including prevention strategies, education, legal protections that comply with high international standards on prohibition against violence, prosecution processes and incorporate access to justice, punishment for violations of these laws and reparations to the victims in response to the wrong done and harm suffered. So you have a stage by stage, systematic approach that outlines with some precision the role of the state in striving to eliminate violence, to educate about violence, to protect women through particular approaches, and to make it the responsibility of the state machinery to ensure that justice is done where such violence is perpetrated. If the state fails to provide such an institutional framework for protection and reparations, the state should recognise that it will be help accountable for having failed in its international responsibility to its citizens in this regard. Such a treaty would highlight the key components for an approach that will inculcate a stronger degree of accountability, and it will begin with a legal definition of what constitutes violence. At the moment we only have definitions encapsulated in the documents of the WHO and the Declaration onVAW, but these are non-binding instruments and leaves it to states to determine whether to include all components of the international definitions into their legislative framework. On the other hand, the treaty would ensure greater compliance because it would provide an exact reference point in terms of various aspects of violence that are required to be addressed within the state framework if you are a party to that treaty. In one sense, it may be said that the treaty would serve to bring together in one place the emerging consensus in relation to the customary international legal principle pertaining to stateobligations to protect women and girls against violence.

Moreover, the treaty would be instrumental in identifying the typical barriers to help seeking that are problems across various victim groups, and I think this is a really fundamental point, because it is something that affects all frameworks around the world regardless of how good they are because you could have model legislation that looks great on paper, but we’re beginning to realise there are a numerous barriers that do not account for the substantive impact of the laws, the social and political context, and the situation of women victims and their ability to avail of these systems. The treaty should contain provisions on substantive obligations toensure that institutional and policy approaches account for these barriers and make their systems more accessible, so that these are not mere paper protections. In that way, a dedicated treaty could outline a specific impact of economic, educational, social, cultural, gender, language, health, immigration status, racial, religious and other factors that impact help seeking currently and the understanding of violence and access to state machinery. This wouldoblige states to provide a more sensitised system and set of institutions to ensure that the impact of these factors insofar as they impede access to the institutions for protection is minimized as far as possible. This is not something that any of the treaties do at the moment. This is why state parties report that they have adequate laws to ensure protection and punishment. Therefore, the current reporting process leaves much to be desired because although committee members often question states as to how a particular norm operates in their social and legal context, but the states are not pressed hard enough on these barriers, and how they intersect to impede justice for women and make violence such a big problem. This may also indicate the need to institutionalise in the treaty an obligation on all state parties to collect and report data in relation to access to justice, the number and groups of women who seek information about and assistance for violence against women,etc., including outcomes of cases filed.

Such a treaty would also more broadly identify international best practices pertaining to implementation of a rigorous protection system and service provision. There are numerous examples globally that could inform the treaty drafting process. For example, it could set a standard provision for budget allocation to tackle VAW, in terms of percentage of countries GDP for example. It could call for a review on a periodic basis for submission to the treaty body in between tworeporting cycles. It could make it mandatory for the state to collect the data related to violence against women and require that such data be disaggregated by key variables to identify high-risk groups within their country. A more targeted approach to rooting out violence at the state level can be facilitated in this manner by examining each stage in the cycle of violence and help seeking through to justice. Finally, essentially the most compelling and crucial justification in my view, is that given the extremely high rates ofprevalence of violence in all countries around the world, the current mechanisms are evidently too indirect and therefore, ill-suited to this particular purpose and accordingly, inadequate to resolve the endemic problem. The current approach doesn’t go deep enough. The factors that contribute toprevalence of violence vary across countries are really deep rooted in history, traditions, and cultural frameworks and are greatly impacted by governance issues at the state level in general. We need a programmatic approach that deals with the VAW issue comprehensively and exhaustively in a single treaty, so that it can substantively address all of these issues in as exhaustive amanner as possible by drawing on the systemic failings and root causes of VAW that we have borne witness to. The current piecemeal approach doesn’t come close to offering a comprehensive framework to tackle such a deep-rooted problem. The primary justification for such a treaty therefore lies in the very fact that the discrimination-based approach to eradication of VAW is not specific or strong enough, and we need a more multidimensional and multi-level approach in order to tackle violence against women on all fronts.

Puja Kapai

Associate Professor of Law, Director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law and the Director of the Social Justice Summer Internship at the Faculty of the Law at the University of Hong Kong

Everywoman Everywhere Coalition Map- 2014


UN Release: Rashida Manjoo calls for a legally binding global treaty on violence against women

From a United Nations Press Release:

UN expert calls for a legally binding global treaty for the elimination of violence against women

NEW YORK / GENEVA (26 October 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo, today told the UN General Assembly that the absence of a legally binding agreement at the international level represents one of the obstacles to the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality.

The UN expert reiterated her concern that continuing and new challenges still obstruct efforts to promote and protect women’s rights and gender equality, and called for the adoption of different norms and measures to fight violence against women around the world. She also recommended the need to address the legal gap in protection, prevention and accountability in respect of violence against women.

“A different set of laws and practical measures are urgently needed to respond to and prevent the systemic, widespread and pervasive human rights violation experienced largely by women,” Ms. Manjoo said during the presentation of her last report* to the global body in New York.

She argued that with a specific legally binding instrument, a protective, preventive and educative framework would be established, reaffirming the international community’s assertion that women’s rights are human rights and that violence against women is a pervasive and widespread human rights violation, in and of itself.

“Twenty years after the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of violence against women and of the establishment of my mandate, I am encouraged by the milestones achieved in advancing women’s rights and gender equality, at the national, regional and international levels,” she said.

“However,” Ms. Manjoo stated, “despite this progress, both continuing and new sets of challenges hamper efforts to promote and protect the human rights of women, largely due to the lack of a all-inclusive approach that addresses individual, institutional and structural factors that are a cause and a consequence of violence against women.”

The expert’s report analyses the impact of violence against women on the effective exercise of all human rights and also citizenship rights. By viewing violence against women through the citizenship framework, it emphasizes women’s participation, autonomy and agency, highlighting the importance of women participating as full citizens in their communities.

The report also exposes the role that gender-based violence plays in impeding women’s realization of a broad range of human rights that are essential to the exercise of full, inclusive and participatory citizenship.

“Violence against women is a pervasive human rights violation that needs to be seen as a barrier to the realization and enjoyment of all human rights,” the Special Rapporteur said.

She also pointed out that the current austerity measures have had a disproportionate impact, not only in the availability and quality of services for women and girls victims of violence, but more generally, in areas such as poverty reduction measures, employment opportunities and benefit schemes. “Such issues affect women disproportionally,” Ms. Manjoo highlighted.

The Special Rapporteur urged States to fulfill their responsibilities for preventing and responding to violence against women and girls, both in the public and private spheres.

“Transformative change requires that the words and actions of States’ reflects the acknowledgement that violence against women is a human rights violation, in and of itself; and more importantly it requires a commitment by States’ to be bound by specific legal obligations in the quest for elimination of this pervasive and widespread human rights violation,” she concluded.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report:


Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Manjoo holds a part-time position as a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, visit:

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Everywoman Everywhere Coalition- We’re live!

A heartfelt welcome to all activist, scholars, volunteers, survivors, and concerned members of our global community! Today marks the official launch of our Everywoman Everywhere Coalition, a highly diverse group of women and men from around the world who have come together with a singular mission: To advance a new legally binding international norm on violence against women and girls. While no one single action or approach will prove the “magic bullet” in ending this breed of terror, we collectively believe that a new norm in the form of a United Nations Convention or legally binding equivalent (such as an additional protocol to CEDAW) will prove a dramatic step forward in creating a legal standard supporting governments and citizens work on this critical issue through clear standards for domestic law, and accountability for their implementation.

We hope to use this blog as a space for folks to share their perspectives on the many facets of the Everywoman Everywhere Coalition’s work and the policies we have come together to pursue. That means we would love to hear from you!

Do you have a story you’d like to share that illustrates the need for a norm?

Have you seen first hand the impact of a gap in domestic law or implementation in your context?

Do you have thoughts and feedback about the core platform- what it must or must not include?

Do you have experience with using regional or global treaties with success or cha

Are you a survivor that ran into barriers to justice in the legal system? What could have been done better?

Are you a concerned citizen who has had frustration or success in engaging your community (school, work, friends, general public) in conversation about ending violence against women?

Do you have concerns about the prospect of a new norm, and want to share it with this community?

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