The issue of violence against women has been firmly embedded in the political agenda globally, from the Balkans where the focus is trafficking to the United Kingdom where there have been high level condemnations against the so-called honour killings of women either in the United Kingdom or British women in other jurisdictions to where they have been abducted, which has become a notable and new development in investigations of murder cases. From a legislative perspective however, the most gender-focused measures have been in the field of domestic violence.
This has been the result of years of campaigning by women's groups culminating in the ratification of CEDAW and the Beijing conferences. Domestic violence legislation, acknowledges if only implicitly, that violence against women is a form of sex discrimination and its eradication a necessary step to gender equality.
It was at the Beijing Platform of Action adopted at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in 1995, that violence against women was identified as one of the twelve critical areas of concern and one of the main obstacles?to the advancement of women.? It was a result of this that governments agreed to adopt and implement national legislation aimed at providing women with adequate legal and institutional measures, protecting them against all forms of gender-based violence.
It is however, domestic violence, which has been largely legislated against, across the region. This is a significant step towards recognising the need to specifically legislate for the protection of women rather than to expect common or criminal law (according to the jurisdiction) to protect women. This step also is an acknowledgement that these forms of domestic law were inadequate in dealing with gender based violence as, particularly in the United Kingdom, the victim had to prove a claim to the higher, criminal standard, a task not easily achieved where the victim herself was not given emergency protection and the perpetrator was a member of her household.
The new domestic violence legislation has allowed women in jurisdictions such as Austria and the United Kingdom, emergency protection without the need to attend a court hearing in the first instance. Also and particularly, in the United Kingdom, this legislation has been more empowering for the victim who is able to take preventative measures by way of interim emergency injunctions using a legal process designed for a lay person to enforce.
The legislation also, by and large for the first time, recognises that the term violence cannot be limited to physical acts. It also encompasses threatening behaviour and psychological harm. The new laws also acknowledge that domestic violence is not limited to acts by husbands or co-habiting spouses, so that any member of a woman's household could be a perpetrator.
Progress has also been made by the inter agency approach states have adopted in the ancillary matters surrounding gender violence, such as social education and providing refuges for victims. Here, Switzerland is an example of a state that has encouraged and ensured countrywide refuges.
What is lacking, however, is clear policy to legislate against persistent offenders. Emergency procedures deal very effectively with the urgent safety of the victim by imposing bans on the abuser; however beyond these measures, in most jurisdictions, the normal criminal process has to be applied, to impose legal penalties on the perpetrator.
Analysis provided by: Soraya Pascoe, Legal Expert on Gender.