Violence against women is recognised internationally as a human rights violation:
“the elimination of violence against women in public and private life is a human rights obligation” – “this form of violence impedes the ability of women and girls to claim, realize and enjoy their human rights on an equal foot with men”
And human rights violations are one of the recognised causes of displacement – whether internationally (leading to refugees) or within countries (leading to Internally Displaced Persons – IDPs).
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs publishes the “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”, highlighting the distinctive issues around internal displacement:
“Unlike refugees, the internally displaced have not left the country whose citizens they normally are. As such, they remain entitled to the same rights that all other persons in their country enjoy. They do, however, have special needs by virtue of their displacement.”
The UNOCHA specifically lists human rights violations as one of the causes of internal displacement:
“The reasons for flight may vary and include armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, and natural or human-made disasters.”
So, it is clear that internal displacement due to violence against women is within these definitions. That forced displacement of women and children due to domestic violence creates internally displaced persons (IDPs).
But, time and again, the focus of data and action on Internal Displacement is only on the other causes – armed conflict, generalised violence, natural or human-made disasters.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre collects and maps data on displacement events – but the categories of the map are only Conflict, Disaster and Development.
map for the last 30 days only shows events caused by Conflict or Disaster:
The map for the last 90 days also shows a few displacements caused by Development:
But there is no mapping here of human rights violations causing displacement.
The UK shows some Disaster displacement – and current news reports are full of people being forced from their homes due to flooding. But there is no mention of the tens of thousands of women and children forced from their homes due to domestic violence – the tens of thousands of domestic violence IDPs in the UK.
 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/Pages/VaW.aspx
 Handbook for applying the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1999, p. 5) http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/protection/idps/50f94df59/handbook-applying-guiding-principles-internal-displacement-ocha-november.html
There’s always talk that women and children shouldn’t have to relocate due to abuse:
“Why should she have to move?”
Of course she shouldn’t…
It would be better if we lived in a society where women and children didn’t experience violence in the family ─ if perpetrators were swiftly and effectively permanently stopped from being abusive.
Abuse can be physical ─ but it can also be emotional, psychological, financial… In the context of an intimate relationship, there are so many ways that an abuser can control you: can get into your head, as well as your heart. It can take a long time to recognise this ─ to realise how much you are only doing what he wants you to do: how you have become so used to living in fear. If anyone asked you about the “latest incident”, it would be impossible to define what an incident is within your constrained life.
Even if the perpetrator disappeared, it could take months and years to rebuild your sense of self; and to help your children learn what healthy relationships look and feel like.
There is a big difference between being just literally safe, and being in a context where you can feel free in your mind and your emotions.
Escaping ─ relocating ─ leaving ─ moving…
These are strategies that can be vital for immediate safety (because we are very far from living in a society that holds domestic violence perpetrators accountable and stops them continuing their abuse); but also for women and children to rebuild their sense of self, independence and freedom. To be in a place and amongst people who help you to make sense of the abuse in all its aspects ─ not just physical incidents ─ and to accept that you are not to blame.
So moving can be a crucial strategy ─ for safety and freedom. Getting away from the danger ─ but also from the constraints and memories. Meeting other women who have been through similar experiences. Clearing your head ─ and getting information and advice for your next move: whether that move is geographical or emotional (or both).
It shouldn’t be for anyone else to force you to move ─ or to force you to stay.
We need a society where all options are really available for women and children experiencing domestic violence.
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.
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 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 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 on the Domestic Violence Bill by the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid that “In my view the provisions of the Domestic Abuse Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.”
As the Special Rapporteur  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.”
 European Convention on Human Rights. https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf
Imagine a world where there were enough refuge spaces for women and children escaping domestic violence. Where these refuges were situated all around the country – in all types of places – so that women could go to the right type of place for their needs.
- Not too close – first and foremost you need safety
- Not too familiar – the abuser might try and track you down
- Not too far – so that you don’t feel that you have been forced into exile
- Not too strange – the kind of place where you can start again
Imagine a world where you could escape if you needed to – and therefore also knew that you could try and stay put (using legal protection and services’ support if necessary) if you wanted to…. because there would always be a safety net if that didn’t work.
Imagine a support system that gave top priority to your rights and needs – that was there to serve you.
A basic infrastructure that you have a fundamental right to access – when and where you need it.
Not the current fragmentation – where local areas can decide whether or not to provide services – and restrict the services they provide to local women and children. Where you have to keep on proving that you really need help, and prove where you have come from – as if you are asking for some special favour rather than simply your rights…
If we really believe that “violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms” then every state should ensure that women can easily access their right to escape violence. Every state should provide a comprehensive, fully-functioning infrastructure for women’s human rights.
 UN General Assembly. 1993. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women: General Assembly resolution 48/104 of 20 December 1993. United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland. Available at: http://www.un-documents.net/a48r104.htm
It is a chilling fact that women are most at risk from men they know. Three-quarters of women killed by men in the UK last year were killed by someone they knew.
Many of the killings were in the context of domestic violence – 64 women were killed by a current or former intimate partner.
The women who died include those who were not able to escape the abuser, as well as those who were tracked down after trying to get somewhere safe. Many were killed by a former partner in the first few months after separation.
These should not be seen as private or isolated incidents – the ‘Femicide Census Report’ highlights similar patterns in cases across the country – and similar possible ways to prevent future killings.
It is clear that it is vital that women can find somewhere safe and supportive to escape to.
 Most of those killed by a stranger were killed in a terrorist attack.
 Support is available via the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247
It is commonly said that women and children experiencing domestic violence should be able to ‘stay put’. That it should be the perpetrators of abuse who have their lives disrupted – that it should be them who have to move out or be held to account. That it should be the perpetrators who have to make the journeys.
That may be true.
However, that would be all the more reason that – as a society – we need women’s refuges all around the country for women and their children to escape to.
Because an option to stay put is only an option if there would be the possibility to escape. It is only a choice to stay put if there is somewhere to go to if you need to escape – in the short or long term. If there is nowhere safe, non-judgemental and supportive to escape to, then you are not ‘staying put’, you are stuck. You are not choosing to stay put – you are imprisoned in the location of the abuse.
There needs to be both options – staying put and leaving – so that women know that they can get all kinds of help.
“I wish I had the voice to cry out to the world – do not keep quiet; if you fear something is not right with your partner – or whoever is abusing you; if you feel the signs of abuse – talk to somebody.” Gloria
According to the United Nations, the United Kingdom has no Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) or people in IDP-like situations needing protection or assistance by the UNHCR. But is that really the case? Displacement has many causes, but IDPs are generally caused by war and conflict, or by natural disasters, as well as by government policies such as large development projects, or by human rights violations. If a government adequately supports, protects and compensates such displaced persons, then it is not surprising that they do not come under the international concern of the United Nations. However, if, like refugees, they cannot obtain the security and well-being they need from their own government, then they become the concern of the international community. Violence against women is a form of discrimination and a violation of human rights, so are the women and children displaced by violence and abuse adequately protected, supported and compensated by the UK Government? Even if we only consider the women and children who go to formal services to escape domestic violence, we are talking about tens of thousands of people in the UK every year – Internally Displaced Persons. Are their human rights really being protected?
 UNHCR. 2013. Displacement – The new 21st Century Challenge: UNHCR Global Trends 2012 Available at: http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/country/51bacb0f9/unhcr-global-trends-2012.html
 UN. 2006. Ending violence against women: From words to action. Study of the Secretary-General. United Nations, New York. Available at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2006/1/ending-violence-against-women-from-words-to-action-study-of-the-secretary-general