UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women discusses States' obligations

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UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Šimonović, has submitted her report to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council. The June 2017 Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences (A/HRC/35/30) includes a specific focus on shelters and protection orders.

The report starts with a summary of the Special Rapporteur's activities and an examination of international and regional human rights frameworks. The Special Rapporteur considers how these frameworks address women's right to live free from violence and specifically the provision of shelters and protection orders as tools for protecting women. The Special Rapporteur says:

"These mechanisms include CEDAW and other treaty bodies, regional human rights mechanisms, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and other special procedure mandate holders. As highlighted throughout the present report, through their recommendations and jurisprudence these mechanisms have further clarified States’ human rights obligation to establish a comprehensive and coordinated national framework to combat and to prevent gender-based violence, including through provision of shelters and protection orders, which are essential tools in this framework."

The report also addresses gaps, challenges and good practices related to shelters and protection orders as well as wider issues related to violence against women. She describes wide variation in shelter services globally and noted "In recent years, social services, such as public housing and access to shelters, have been undermined by austerity policies and budgetary cuts." She cites research that recommends one shelter place for every 10,000 inhabitants. She outlines 11 common issues for shelters. Many of these address availability and access. She also identifies two key issues related to when women are ready to move from a shelter:

  • Lack of access to safe and affordable housing after staying in a shelter means victims may return to home with a violent perpetrator
  • Women may struggle to leave a shelter due to lack of employment, family support or other means to support themselves.

The report also outlines nine issues related to protection orders. These include "... pervasive cultural assumptions about a women's need to 'leave' a violent household, as opposed to the need to remove a violent partner." A number of issues are identified related to legal procedures including delays in issuing orders, failure to address breaches, failures to offer orders and misuse of orders against victims.

The Special Rapporteur identifies a number of broader issues in service integration and delivery that undermine the protection of women. These include issues such as lack of service integration and coordination, gender stereotypes held by police, lack of risk management, lack of language services for ethnic minorities, mandated meditation processes that have dangerous effects (such as those related to separation and child custody), lack of training for judges and law enforcement, and children's exposure to violence against women.

In conclusion, the Rapporteur says:

"The persistence of systemic gender-based violence against women, even in States that have proclaimed zero tolerance of violence against women, indicates that gender-based violence is deeply entrenched in our still predominantly patriarchal societies and accepted as 'just the way things are'. Prevention and eradication of violence against women require transformation and adoption of comprehensive, integrated and coordinated policies and laws based on international and regional human rights law commitments. The establishment of safe women’s shelters and efficient and immediate protection orders should be seen as human rights obligations that uphold a woman’s right to live free from violence."

The conclusion includes 17 specific recommendations. Some key recommendations are:

  • State need to establish coherent legal frameworks of aligned laws
  • States should provide adequate funding and staffing to implement integrated policies, measures and programmes to prevent and address violence against women
  • States should ensure police and other professionals adequately assess risk including lethality
  • All decision-makers should consider the best interests of children who have witnessed violence against women, taking into account the context of domestic violence and recognising that "Visitation by the violent parent must be carefully regulated to ensure the victims and their children are safe."
  • States should provide sufficient number of shelters accessible to any woman or girl including disadvantaged women
  • States should ensure through legislation that protection orders are available and effectively implemented
  • States should avoid mandatory reconciliation in cases of violence against women
  • States should measure implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal 5.2 (elimination of violence against women) and collect data on all forms of violence against women.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner press release notes:

"In many cases, weak and uncoordinated State responses create a protection gap and end in tragedy: the killing of women or children,” Ms. Šimonović noted. “These killings are preventable, if such violence is treated as a serious crime and States fulfil their human rights obligations to combat and prevent these crimes.”

United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council - resolution on violence against women

The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution covering Accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women: engaging men and boys in preventing and responding to violence against all women and girls.

However media reported that the United States noted its opposition to a paragraph affirming women's sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including "safe abortion where such services are permitted by national law."

Related reports

Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls (A/HRC/35/10) (April 2017)

Report of the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (A/HRC/35/36) (April 2017)

Further reading

Research on effective services for victim/survivors of violence are available in our Recommended reading, including the following sections:

  • 'What works' reports
  • Victim/survivors' voices
  • Integrated family violence system
  • Intervention
    - Intimate partner violence and child abuse and neglect  
    - By population group
    - By sector