An international view of Gender-based Violence and violence against Women and Girls

“It was much easier to explain the veil than to answer questions about the wounds.” 
― Pawan Mishra, Coinman: An Untold Conspiracy

"For a long time, international human rights law has been silent on the issue of GBV/VAW. This is because until the late 1980s/early 1980s, VAW, in particular domestic violence, was not considered a matter to be dealt with by human rights law. For instance, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted in 1979 – the major UN women’s rights treaty – does not contain a provision on violence against women. This gap was closed in 1992, when the CEDAW Committee, the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of CEDAW, adoptied General Recommendation No. 19 on VAW (GR 19).


In this document the Committee clarifies that GBV against women is a form of discrimination and therefore covered by the scope of CEDAW. GBV is defined as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately”, thereby underlining that violence against women is not something occurring to women randomly, but rather an issue affecting them because of their gender. Further, GBV is defined as including “acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” GR 19 also specifies that GBV may constitute a violation or women’s human rights, such as the right to life, the right to equal protection under the law; the right to equality in the family; or the right to the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health. (Source: CEDAWGeneral Recommendation No. 19 on VAW).

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) adoptedby the UN General Assembly in 1993 has been influenced by CEDAW General Recommendation No. 19. It defines VAW as: “Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likley to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” (Article 1) The declaration encompasses all forms of gender-based violence against women (physical, sexual and psychological), no matter in which context or setting they occur:

  • in the family (such as  battery, marital rape; sexual abuse of female children; dowry-related violence; ; female genital mutilation/cutting and other traditional practices harmful to women);

  • in the general community (such as rape, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in school and elsewhere; trafficking in women; and forced prostitution), and

  • violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, wherever it occurs (Article 2). 

Further, DEVAW specifies that violence against women is a manifestation of unequal power relationships between men and women and a violation of women’s human rights (preamble). Article 3 lists examples of these rights, such as the right to life, the right to equality, the right to the highest standard attainable of physical and mental health, or the right not to be subjected to torture, or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Source: 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women).

Both, CEDAW GR 19 and DEVAW explicitly encompass violence perpetrated by either, state officials or private persons such as family members, acquaintance or employers. In doing so, they close an important gap under international human rights law which originally excluded from the human rights agenda the so-called private sphere in which many women’s rights violations occur.


The Beijing Platform for Action adopted in 1995furtherexpanded on the definition of DEVAW to include: violations of the rights of women in situations of armed conflict, including systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy; forced sterilization, forced abortion, coerced or forced use of contraceptives; prenatal sex selection; and, female infanticide. It further recognized the particular vulnerabilities of women belonging to minorities; the elderly and the displaced; indigenous, refugee and migrant communities; women living in impoverished rural or remote areas, or in detention. 1995 Beijing Platform for Action   (Source: Strengthening Health System Responses to Gender-based Violence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia)

















Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women


Secretary-General’s In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women 

Source: UN Women for the abovementioned files unless otherwise stated.

Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

Source: Council of Europe

'Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal.