Women’s Rights are Human Rights?

It shouldn’t be too controversial a statement to highlight that violence against women is not just an individual problem – causing fear, harm, injury – but a human rights violation.  A violation that does not just harm the individual woman, but harms society, community, nation and humanity – every time that abuse is not responded to with justice. 

Violence against women does not just need a response from welfare services to individuals; it needs a response from justice services in the widest sense.  It needs a willingness to tackle the causes as well as the consequences of the abuse.

That is the thinking about linking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25th November) with International Human Rights Day on the 10th December via the internationally-recognised “16 days of activism” each year[1].

At the international level, the United Nations highlights that “violence against women has come to be recognized as a violation of women’s human rights and a form of gender-based discrimination”; and the latest report[2] from the  Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences details the international legal framework on women’s human rights and violence against women.

But you will struggle to find much recognition of women’s rights as human rights in the priorities of the UK Parliament.  During the Second Reading of the Domestic Violence Bill on 2nd October 2019[3] only three MPs mentioned human rights:

  • Conservative MP Theresa May talked about an individual abuser controlling a woman “until that individual’s rights as an individual human being were taken away from them.”
  • SNP MP Angela Crawley highlighted that “should the Bill fail adequately to promote equality, including for those with insecure immigration status, it would risk violating our existing human rights obligations.”
  • Labour MP Debbie Abrahams focused on public services for both men and women stating “That needs to be a human rights approach, and those services need to be adequately funded.”

A human rights approach requires a less piecemeal approach.  It can’t be an afterthought or add-on.  It needs to go beyond a brief statement[4] on the Domestic Violence Bill by the then Home Secretary Savid Javid that “In my view the provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill are compatible with the Convention[5] rights.”

As the Special Rapporteur [2] states “At present, at the international normative level, the right of women to be free from violence is recognized as an international human rights standard but, in practice, gender-based violence against women and girls continues to be tolerated and has become normalized in many societies.”


[1] https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/take-action/16-days-of-activism

[2] UN Human Rights Council. 2019. Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Its Causes and Consequences. A/HRC/41/42. UN Human Rights Council. http://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/42

[3] https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2019-10-02/debates/C3488538-CFEC-4670-9299-732672E2BE67/DomesticAbuseBill

[4] https://services.parliament.uk/Bills/2017-19/domesticabuse/documents.html

[5] European Convention on Human Rights. https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf