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Adopting a human rights-based approach

Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation. As a human rights issue enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and other international and regional human rights instruments, it should be recognized that this phenomenon violates the principle of equality between men and women and persists because of this inequality. As such, approaching violence against women from a rights perspective requires that gender inequality is addressed as a root cause, and that women’s rights and freedoms vis-à-vis CEDAW are upheld. States are obligated to promote and protect these human rights and all interventions should be designed and implemented with this understanding.

A human rights-based approach requires developing the capacities of ‘duty-bearers’, or those responsible for implementing the law (e.g. justice, security/police, health and education personnel, among others) on human rights and gender and on what these mean and how they can be applied in the context of violence against women. In practical terms, examples include:

  • Ensuring that health care providers uphold a woman’s right to make her own decisions related to reporting abuse or taking legal or any other action.
  • Ensuring that police understand that it is their duty (at the request of the woman) to intervene in domestic violence situations, even when it occurs in the privacy of a home.
  • Ensuring that justice procedures (e.g. the type of evidence that is/is not allowed in cases of sexual abuse; the statute of limitations for filing a case, etc.) take into account the gender-based nature of this crime and the fact that women survivors face stigma and discrimination that may deter them from reporting or filing a case right away.
  • Ensuring women’s safety, confidentiality and anonymity at all times.

A human rights-based approach also requires developing the capacities of ‘rights holders’ (i.e. women and girls), so that they can avail themselves of the rights to which they are entitled.  In practical terms, examples include:

  • Ensuring services are available, accessible and known to women and girls.
  • Implementing awareness-raising campaigns on zero tolerance for violence to reduce stigma and change attitudes that tolerate this human rights violation.
  • Undertaking legal rights training for women and girls.
  • Engaging with customary, traditional and religious leaders (who ascribe to human rights and gender equality) to reach underserved populations, such as the elderly, women with disabilities, immigrants and ethnic minorities, with whom they often have contact.