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Violence Against Women Strategy and Action Plans

Annex A - Background and contexts


International Context

United Nations

  • The United Nations (UN) first situated VAW within the human rights framework in 1993, and in 1995 the UK Government signed the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA) on VAW.
  • The Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Article that prohibits torture have both brought VAW out of the private and into the public sphere and in doing so have recognised VAW as an infringement of women's basic human rights.
  • The UN has defined VAW in the following terms:
    "Violence against women refers to any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to the following:
    1. Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation;
    2. Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
    3. Physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs."
  • In 2006, the UN published a summary definition of violence against women that reiterated and defined the definition above. The UN further defined gender-based violence against women as:
    "Violence that is directed against a woman, because she is a woman, or violence that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty".

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National Context

Government-Wide Delivery Plans

There are a range of Government-wide Delivery and Action Plans for 2007-08 relating to VAW, which are overseen by Inter-Ministerial Groups. These include:

  • National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan, overseen by the Domestic Violence Inter-Ministerial group;
  • Sexual Violence and Abuse Action Plan, overseen by the Inter-Ministerial Group on Sexual Offending;
  • UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking, overseen by the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group on Human Trafficking; and
  • UK Prostitution Strategy, overseen by the Home Office Prostitution Review Team.

The Inter-Ministerial Groups on Domestic Violence and Sexual Violence are under review in the light of the development of a cross-Government Violent Crime Action Plan. The Reducing Re-offending IMG now has responsibility for implementing the Government's Response to the Corston Report (which proposed links between the work on violence against women and women offenders). [Note: The Corston Report - A report by Baroness Jean Corston of a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, March 2007.]

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Scottish Executive

The work on violence against women is also informed by examples closer to home. The Scottish Executive has recently published a draft strategic framework on violence against women.

The definition adopted by the Scottish Executive is similar to the UN and CoE definition but includes commercial sexual exploitation and pornography.

"Violence against women encompasses but is not limited to the following:

  • Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, within the general community, or in the institutions, including: domestic abuse; rape; incest and child sexual abuse;
  • Sexual harassment and intimidation at work and in the public sphere; commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, pornography and trafficking;
  • Dowry related violence;
  • Female genital mutilation;
  • Forced and child marriages;
  • Honour crimes."

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Legislative Context

European Conventions

Violence against women is recognised as a human rights issue. The main Articles from the European Convention on Human Rights that apply are:

  • Article 2 - the right to life. This is a fundamental right, enshrined and protected by the European Convention.
  • Article 3 - the prohibition against torture. This right deals with the protection of individuals from inhuman or degrading treatment inflicted by another private individual.
  • Article 8 - the right to a private and family life.

Protection from violence against women is also found in a number of other European conventions, demonstrating the breadth and importance of the issues. Examples of some of the other key conventions are as follows:

  • Convention on Eliminating Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
  • Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child; and
  • Convention Against Trans-national Organised Crime, including the Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

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Equality Act 2006

The Equality Act 2006 established the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR). The Commission will have a number of duties, including monitoring the effectiveness of legislation, enforcement of the legislation as well as an investigatory function in certain circumstances. The CEHR will therefore be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Gender Equality Duty (GED), with effect from October 2007. The GED is an important mechanism through which violence against women can be tackled. The duty requires relevant public authorities to promote equality between men and women and to pay 'due regard' to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination and harassment between men and women. Given the fact that violence against women is rooted in the structural inequality between men and women, the GED provides a way for public authorities to look at how they operate in order to address systemic inequalities.

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Other recent legislation linked to VAW

  • The Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004 (DVCVA 2004) is the first dedicated piece of domestic violence legislation for 30 years. Key provisions include:
    • making the breach of a non-molestation order a criminal offence;
    • granting courts the power to impose restraining orders for any offence, on conviction or acquittal; and
    • introducing a new offence of 'familial homicide'.
  • The legal framework for dealing with sexual offences was completely overhauled by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (SOA 2003). The SOA 2003 widened the definitions of some offences. For example, non-consensual penile penetration of the mouth is now defined as rape. The Act also created new offences, such as paying for sex with a child and 'voyeurism' and extended the age of 'children' from 16 to 18 for some specified offences.
  • The SOA 2003 also introduced a new offence of 'trafficking people into, within and out of the country for the purposes of sexual exploitation'. The UK Government has become a signatory to the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. The legislation and the obligations under the Convention combine to punish perpetrators of human trafficking, whilst providing support and assistance for victims.
  • The Criminal Justice Act 2003 (CJA 2003) overhauled the hearsay provisions, the bad character rules, and the circumstances in which a witness can refresh their memory. The CJA 2003 also provides procedural guidance for the admissibility of earlier statements and earlier inconsistent statements.
  • The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 repealed the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 and closed a loophole that enabled victims to be taken out of the UK for the purposes of FGM, without any sanctions for the perpetrators. The international jurisdiction of the Act now allows for UK nationals or permanent nationals to be prosecuted for aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring the carrying out of FGM, even in countries where it is legal.

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