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Legislation should be based on specific guiding principles

Experience over time and in many different contexts has shown that certain core standards should guide the development of laws combating violence against women to ensure that they accomplish the goal of protecting women, and to guard against unintended consequences that may harm women and girls. Experts from around the world have developed these guiding principles. Laws should:

  • Recognize that violence against women is a form of gender-based discrimination and a violation of human rights.
  • Address violence against women and girls through a comprehensive approach that involves the constitutional, civil, criminal and administrative law of a nation.
  • Be modified, including those in multiple legal systems, when they are in conflict with new laws on violence against women and girls.
  • Provide that no custom, tradition or religious tenet may be used to justify violence against women and girls.
  • Criminalize all forms of violence against women and girls and charge police, prosecutors, and judicial officials with specific duties to enforce the laws on violence against women and girls in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • Provide safety, aid and empowerment for survivors through criminal and civil provisions which include a broad range of remedies and reparations.
  • Ensure that investigations do not create secondary victimization through attitudes or techniques and minimize intrusion into lives of victims while maintaining high standards for collection of evidence.
  • Provide for prosecution and punishment of perpetrators.
  • Provide for enhanced penalties for aggravating circumstances involving natural disaster situations and civil or political unrest or conflict situations.
  • Prohibit the acceptance of financial settlement or marriage as settlement of claims of violence against women and girls.
  • Provide that no mediation provisions are a part of legislation on violence against women and girls.
  • Contain provisions that ensure that women are not re-victimized by the legal process or experience secondary victimization.
  • Contain provisions that ensure that women have full access to the civil and criminal justice systems.
  • Contain provisions for the full and sustained funding of the implementation of the law.
  • Contain regulations and protocols for the implementation of the law to ensure that enforcement does not languish.
  • Contain provisions that mandate the training of law enforcement officials, including police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and family law attorneys, the judiciary, health care providers, social service providers, teachers, and religious, customary, community, and tribal leaders, on women’s human rights and violence against women and girls, including all relevant domestic laws, policies, and programmes as well as international legal instruments.
  • Address prevention of violence against women and girls through awareness-raising campaigns, education and sensitization of the media, information on violence against women and girls at all levels of educational curricula, and through awareness and promotion of the safety of women in public spaces and in cyberspace.
  • Contain provisions to ensure the monitoring of implementation of laws on violence against women and girls, including monitoring of implementation for different groups of women based upon race, class, ethnicity, religion, disability, culture, indigenous or migrant status, legal status, age or sexual orientation.
  • Contain provisions to ensure the systematic and coordinated collection of data on the prevalence, causes and consequences of violence against women, which is disaggregated by sex, race, age, ethnicity, relationship between perpetrator and victim, and other relevant characteristics.
  • Be amended when necessary to address unintended consequences of new laws.

(Secretary-General’s in-depth study on violence against women, p. 83; Good practices in legislation on “harmful practices” against women (2009); United Nations Handbook for legislation on violence against women (2009), p. 2-3; See also: Report of the Meeting of the Intergovernmental Expert Group to Review and Update the Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, (2009).)

A video dialogue between experts discussing these principles:

These principles can also form a powerful basis for advocacy around new laws, as well as guide their development. For information on advocating for legislation on violence against women and girls, see the section on Advocating for new laws.

Additional Resources:

United Nations Handbook for legislation on violence against women (2009), p. 2-3. Available in Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish.

A PowerPoint presentation on this United Nations model framework for legislation on violence against women is available here.

Report of the Intergovernmental Expert Group Meeting to Review and Update the Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, (2009).)