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Women, Human Rights & Violence
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Women's Rights
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Women and Poverty

Women and Health

Violence Against Women

Women and Armed Conflict

Women and the Economy

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Human Rights & Violence | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Women, Human Rights & Violence

What is the Human Right to Freedom from Violence?

Violence against women violates fundamental human rights and is an affront to women's inherent human dignity. Physical, psychological, and sexual violence against women and girls, public and private, plagues all societies and classes and poses tremendous obstacles to the achievement of equality, development and peace. Governments have the obligation not to engage in any form of violence against women and to prevent violence against women wherever it occurs.

The Human Rights at Issue

Human rights relating to violence against women are set out in basic human rights treaties and include:

  • The human right to life.

  • The human right to full respect for human dignity.

  • The human right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

  • The human right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

  • The human right to freedom from discrimination and violence, public or private, due to any status, including gender, race, ethnicity or age.

  • The human right to full equality between women and men.

  • The human right to full equality between women and men in power and decision-making.

  • The human right to freedom from sexual abuse, physical abuse, and psychological violence.

  • The human right to a workplace free from violence and abuse.

  • The human right to freedom from dowry-related violence.

  • The human right to freedom from marital rape.

  • The human right to freedom from female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women.

  • The human right to freedom from all harmful customary practices.

  • The human right to freedom from trafficking and forced prostitution.

  • The human right to freedom from violence associated with armed conflict, including murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy.

  • The human right to freedom from forced sterilization and forced abortion.

  • The human right to freedom from coercive use of contraceptives.

  • The human right to freedom from female infanticide.

  • The human right to freedom from prenatal sex selection.

  • The human right to equal access to justice, equal protection of the law, and effective remedies for victims of violence.

  • The human right to access to services, including physical and mental health services.


Human Rights & Poverty | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom from Violence:

What provisions of human right law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Freedom from Violence?

Includes excerpts from the Conventi on on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Conventi on Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Internatio nal Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Internatio nal Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Conventi on on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue ... a policy of eliminating discrimination against women and ... undertake: ... to adopt legislative and other measures ... prohibiting all discrimination against women; to establish legal protection of the rights of women ... and to ensure ... the effective protection of women against any act of discrimination.... to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise; to take all appropriate measures ... to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures ... to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.... States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations...."
--Con vention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 2, 5, 6, 15, and 16

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.... Everyone is entitled to all rights ... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.... Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.... No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.... No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.... All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.... Everyone has the right to an effective remedy ... for acts violating ... fundamental rights.... Men and women ... are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution...."
--Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 16

"... 'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as ... intimidating or coercing him ... or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.... Each State Party shall take effective ... measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.... Each State Party shall undertake to prevent ... other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment...."
--Con vention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Articles 1, 2, and 16

"Each State Party ... undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals ... rights ... without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language ... or other status.... The States Parties ... undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.... Every human being has the inherent right to life.... No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.... No one shall be held in slavery; slavery and the slave-trade in all their forms shall be prohibited.... Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person.... States Parties ... shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights ... of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.... All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law...."
--Inter national Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 23, and 26

"The States Parties ... undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health...."
--Inte rnational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 3 and 12

"... genocide ... is a crime under international law which [Parties] undertake to prevent and to punish.... [G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious groups, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; ... imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group...."
--Con vention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Articles 1 and 2

"States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... to each child ... without discrimination of any kind irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's ... race, colour, sex, language, religion, ... national, ethnic or social origin ... or other status.... In all actions concerning children ... the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for ... well-being.... States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.... States Parties shall take all appropriate ... measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, ... maltreatment or exploitation including sexual abuse.... States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.... shall take all ... measures to prevent the abduction, sale of or traffic in children.... shall ensure that ... no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.... shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery ... of a child victim of: any form of ... exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts...."
--Conve ntion on the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 3, 6, 19, 34, 35, 37, 39


Human Rights & Violence | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Freedom from Violence:

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Freedom from Violence?

Includes excerpts from the De claration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and commitments made at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, and the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen.

"... the term "violence against women" means any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.... Violence against women shall be understood to encompass ... Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation; ... Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution; ... Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.... Women are entitled to the equal enjoyment and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field. These rights include...: ... The right to life; ... equality; ... liberty and security of person; ... equal protection under the law; ... to be free from all forms of discrimination; ... to the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health; ... to just and favourable conditions of work; ... The right not to be subjected to torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.... States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination. States should pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating violence against women and ... should: ... Refrain from engaging in violence against women; ...Exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate ... punish acts of violence against women, whether ... perpetrated by the State or by private persons; ... Develop penal, civil, labour and administrative sanctions ... to punish and redress the wrongs caused to women who are subjected to violence; women who are subjected to violence should be provided with access to the mechanisms of justice and ... to just and effective remedies for the harm that they have suffered; States should also inform women of their rights in seeking redress through such mechanisms...."
-- Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women,Articles 1, 2, 3, and 4

"Violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace. Violence against women both violates and impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of their human rights.... Actions to be taken: ... Condemn violence against women and refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.... Refrain from engaging in violence against women and exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and ... punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by private persons.... Provide women who are subjected to violence with access to the mechanisms of justice and ... to just and effective remedies for the harm they have suffered...."
--Beijing Platform for Action, paras. 112 and 124

"Gender-based violence and all forms of sexual harassment and exploitation, including those resulting from cultural prejudice and international trafficking, are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person, and must be eliminated.... [T]he World Conference on Human Rights stresses the importance of working towards the elimination of violence against women in public and private life, the elimination of all forms of sexual harassment, exploitation and trafficking in women, the elimination of gender bias in the administration of justice and the eradication of any conflicts which may arise between the rights of women and the harmful effects of certain traditional or customary practices, cultural prejudices and religious extremism.... Violations of the human rights of women in situations of armed conflict are violations or the fundamental principles of international human rights.... All violations of this kind, including in particular murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery, and forced pregnancy, require a particularly effective response. "
--Vien na Declaration and Programme of Action,Part I, para. 18, and Part II, para. 38

"We commit ourselves to promoting full respect for human dignity and to achieving equality and equity between women and men.... To this end ... we will ... Take effective measures, including through the enactment and enforcement of laws, and implement policies to combat and eliminate all forms of discrimination, exploitation, abuse and violence against women and girl children.... Promote and protect the full and equal enjoyment by women of all human rights and fundamental freedoms....˛
-- Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 5


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org