In July 2017, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee) adopted General Recommendation No 35 (GR 35): on gender-based violence against women, updating General Recommendation No. 19 (1992) (GR 19)

Updating GR 19 was a significant undertaking for the CEDAW Committee. GR 19 was considered to be the international normative framework for combatting gender-based violence against women and there were 25 years’ worth of progress and materials to be considered.

As part of the drafting process, the CEDAW Committee Working Group appointed to draft the update sought and received over 100 comments from a wide array of stakeholders – states, civil society and women’s organisations, UN entities and academia. The LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security supported the Working Group by convening knowledge exchange workshops, facilitating and participating in Expert Group Meetings, and by individual members providing impartial expert advice.

How does GR 35 help tackle violence against women?

8. This document complements and updates the guidance to States parties set out in general recommendation No. 19, and should be read in conjunction with it.

General Recommendation No 35

Despite the progress made by GR 19, widespread gender-based violence and impunity continue to persist around the globe (para 6-7). In addition to updating GR 19, GR 35 also amplifies state obligations to tackle violence against women as set out in the CEDAW Committee’s general recommendations, namely GR 28, as well as GR 30 on women in conflict and post conflict and GR 33 on access to justice.

Three significant contributions of GR 35 include:

1. GR 35 gives voice to the structural causes of gender-based violence (para 10, 19) and the effects of prejudices and gender stereotyping (para 10, 26, 29, 34, 35, 37, 38, 45).

GR 35 recognises how women’s lives may be adversely impacted by aspects of contemporary life, including environmental degradation, militarisation, displacement, globalisation of economic activities, foreign occupation, armed conflict, violent extremism and terrorism (para 14). It also recognises that violence against women occurs in ‘all spaces and spheres of human interaction’ and spells out various settings where this can occur: ‘the family, the community, the public spaces, the workplace, leisure, politics, sport, health services, educational settings and their redefinition through technology-mediated environments, … the Internet and digital spaces.’ (para 20).

2. GR 35 considerably expands on the multiple and intersecting forms of violence women experience.

Intersectionality is a theme throughout GR 35 that reinforces inclusivity. GR 28 recognised that ‘discrimination of women based on sex and gender is inextricably linked with other factors that affect women, such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, health, status, age, class, caste and sexual orientation and gender identity.’ GR 35 builds on this, recognising ‘gender-based violence may affect some women to different degrees or in different ways’ and, accordingly, different responses must be developed. The catalogue of affecting factors has also been considerably extended: ‘ethnicity/race, indigenous or minority status, colour, socioeconomic status and/or caste, language, religion or belief, political opinion, national origin, marital and/or maternal status, age, urban/rural location, health status, disability, property ownership, being lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, illiteracy, trafficking of women, armed conflict, seeking asylum, being a refugee, internal displacement, statelessness, migration, heading households, widowhood, living with HIV/AIDS, deprivation of liberty, being in prostitution, geographical remoteness and stigmatisation of women fighting for their rights, including human rights defenders.’ (para 12).

3. GR 35 recognises the complicity of the Global North for ‘the pervasiveness of gender-based violence against women’ and culture of impunity.

GR 35 reiterates what are often viewed as the major impediments to elimination of violence against women and effective state responses, namely culture, tradition, religion, fundamentalist ideology (paras 7, 31b). It also references other factors that may be less often remarked – reduction in public spending, austerity economics, extraterritorial corporate behaviour (paras 7, 24b). The former are implicitly associated with the Global South; through this coupling the Committee tacitly recognises the complicity of the Global North in ‘the pervasiveness of gender-based violence against women’ and the culture of impunity (para 7).

Note: this section has been taken from Professor Christine Chinkin’s post on the LSE Women, Peace and Security blog. 

Want more? Read posts by Professor Christine Chinkin post and Dr Aisling Swaine on the LSE Women, Peace and Security blog.

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