Under Article 21 of CEDAW, the CEDAW Committee “may make suggestions and general recommendations based on the examination of reports and information received from the states parties.” General recommendations are authoritative statements that can be used to clarify states’ report obligations (e.g. requiring information on a specific issue must be included in reports) or to suggest approaches to implementing treaty provisions. They can also be written as interpretations and updates of the human rights treaty, clarifying the meaning of specific provisions or highlighting thematic issues.
General recommendations are not treaties and do not need ratification by states parties. Strictly speaking they are not legally binding, however they are considered authoritative statements on the content of legal duties assumed by states parties.
…Are there any specific to violence against women?
Yes. The CEDAW Committee’s general recommendations provide some of the most substantive work on defining VAW and outlining state obligations to end it.
Article(s) primarily concerned: Article 1; Article 2; Article 3; Article 5; Article 6; Article 10; Article 11; Article 12; Article 14; Article 16
Momentum to address violence against women as a form of discrimination and violation of women’s human rights began in the 1980s, at both the institutional and grassroots level. In 1986, an Expert Group on Violence in the Family with Special Emphasis on its Effects on Women was organised by the UN, which was followed by a special study on violence against women in the family in 1989. The report of the special study highlighted the systemic and widespread occurrence of VAW across all cultures, religions and classes. For the first time in an international setting, the study demonstrated that violence against women may be tolerated, condoned or acquiesced in by the state and communities where women live. 1990, Charlotte Bunch argued “sexism kills women” before birth and throughout their lifecycle. Acts of violence against women were not random, but the result of sustained, unequal structural relationships of power.
General Recommendation No. 19 (GR 19) is a detailed review of VAW within the human rights framework and identifies all acts of gender-based violence as forms of discrimination. Unlike previous recommendations on VAW (see General Recommendation No. 12), GR 19 holistically and comprehensively defined VAW and targeted its root causes within the inequality framework. To fulfil their obligations under CEDAW, GR 19 obliges states to take all appropriate measures to end VAW. No matter where it occurs (in the home, community or society at large) or who the perpetrators are (state or private actors), states have an obligation to prevent, investigate, punish and provide adequate reparations for all acts of gender-based violence.
Want more? Read the full text of GR 19 on the OHCHR’s website
Article(s) primarily concerned: Article 9 (nationality); Article 15 (equality before the law); Article 16 (equality in marriage and the family)
In 1994, the General Assembly adopted Resolution 44/82 declaring the International Year of the Family. The CEDAW Committee issued General Recommendation No. 21 (GR 21) on the place of women in family life and equality in marriage.
Equality in the family, including equality in marriage, is a right frequently violated by VAW. GR 21 elaborates on states’ obligations to protect, respect and fulfil women’s equal rights with men with respect to entering into marriage, right to own property and passing their nationalities onto their children. It also recommends that:
40. In considering the place of women in family life, the Committee wishes to stress that the provisions of General recommendation 19 concerning violence against women have great significance for women’s abilities to enjoy rights and freedoms on an equal basis with men. States parties are urged to comply with that general recommendation to ensure that, in both public and family life, women will be free of the gender-based violence that so seriously impedes their rights and freedoms as individuals.
Want more? Read the full text of GR 21 on the OHCHR’s website
Article(s) primarily concerned: Article 12 (health)
General Recommendation No 24 (GR 24) recognises that many forms of violence impacting women’s health are related to sexual violence. Sexual violence leads to physical and psychological harm and unwanted pregnancies. The practice of FGM leads to risks of death and disability (para. 12). Deeply rooted gender inequality leads to women and girls being unable to refuse sex or insist on safe and responsible sex practices (para. 18).
GR 24 addresses many aspects of women’s right to health, importantly calling attention to the role of medical institutions in tackling VAW. In order for women to be secure in their rights under Article 12 of CEDAW, states must ensure VAW is holistically addressed. This includes ensuring survivors of violence have adequate health services available to them and provided by competent medical practitioners with the appropriate experience and training. Some of GR 24’s recommendations directly related to VAW include:
- Creating and enforcing laws, policies, health care protocols and hospital procedures to address VAW and sexual abuse of girls, including the provision of health services (para. 15)
- Gender-sensitive training to enable health care workers to detect and address the health consequences of VAW (para. 15)
- Implementing procedures for hearing complaints and imposing sanctions on health care professionals guilty of sexual abuse (para. 15)
- Creating and enforcing laws that prohibit female genital mutilation and child marriage (para. 15)
- Implementing a comprehensive national strategy to promote women’s health throughout their lifespan – including interventions aimed at adequately responding to violence against women (para. 29)
- Establishing a training curriculum for health workers that includes gender-sensitive courses on women’s health and human rights, with specific focus on gender-based violence (para. 31.f)
- Undertaking appropriate measures to ensure health services adequately meet the needs of women with disabilities and are sensitive to their unique vulnerabilities (para. 25)
Want more? Read the full text of GR 24 on the OHCHR’s website
Article(s) primarily concerned: Article 4(1) (temporary special measures)
9. Equality of results is the logical corollary of de facto or substantive equality. These results may be quantitative and/or qualitative in nature; that is, women enjoying their rights in various fields in fairly equal numbers with men, enjoying the same income levels, equality in decision-making and political influence, and women enjoying freedom from violence.
General Recommendation No. 25 (GR 25) outlines the meaning of temporary special measures under Article 4(1) of CEDAW. Temporary special measures are actions states can take to speedily achieve substantive equality for women. These measures can include affirmative action or preferential treatment policies, political quota systems, outreach and support programmes, reallocation of resources, and targeted recruitment, hiring and promotion. The idea is that these policies are ‘temporary’ because they will no longer be required once substantive equality has been achieved.
Want more? Read the full text of GR 25 on OHCHR’s website
Article(s) primarily concerned: Article 2; Article 3; Article 5; Article 7; Article 11; Article 12
5. Although both men and women migrate, migration is not a gender-neutral phenomenon. The position of female migrants is different from that of male migrants in terms of legal migration channels, the sectors into which they migrate, the forms of abuse they suffer and the consequences thereof. To understand the specific ways in which women are impacted, female migration should be studied from the perspective of gender inequality, traditional female roles, a gendered labour market, the universal prevalence of gender-based violence and the worldwide feminization of poverty and labour migration. The integration of a gender perspective is, therefore, essential to the analysis of the position of female migrants and the development of policies to counter discrimination exploitation and abuse.
General Recommendation No. 26 (GR 26) provides recommendations to states on implementing CEDAW through the lens of women migrant workers’ lived experiences. Regardless of a woman’s immigration status, states are required to protect women against gender-based violence. Recommendations for state action on violence against women migrant workers in GR 26 include:
- Adopting regulations and implementing monitoring systems to ensure employers and recruiting agencies operate in accordance with women’s human rights (para. 26.h)
- Prosecute recruiting agencies for all acts of violence, exploitation, coercion and deceptions (para. 26.h)
- Provide linguistically and culturally appropriate services to women migrant workers, including: emergency shelters, health-care services, police services, recreational programmes, programmes designed for women migrant workers (e.g. domestic workers) and survivors of domestic violence (para. 26.i)
- Ensure emergency and social services are readily available to survivors of abuse, regardless of immigration status (para. 26.i)
- Take all appropriate measures to ensure women migrant workers in detention do not suffer gender-based violence or discrimination of any kind. Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and women in poor health, should be able to access services needed (para. 26.j)
- Reform or eliminate all laws, regulations or policies resulting in the detention of women for migration-related reasons (para. 26.j)
Want more? Read the full text of GR 26 on OHCHR’s website
Article(s) primarily concerned: Article 4(1) (temporary special measures)
16. Gender stereotyping, traditional and customary practices can have harmful impacts on all areas of the lives of older women, in particular those with disabilities, including family relationships, community roles, portrayal in the media, employers’ attitudes, health care and other service providers, and can result in physical violence as well as psychological, verbal and financial abuse.
VAW occurs throughout the lifecycle, impacting women before they are born to the last years of their life. General Recommendation No. 27 (GR 27) addresses the forms of discrimination and types of gender-based violence older women experience.
Older women’s needs and vulnerabilities are often given little attention by states, yet their likelihood for experiencing exploitation and abuse remain very high. To guarantee older women equal rights with men under CEDAW, GR 27 calls on states to:
- Collect and distribute data on the situation of older women from all backgrounds (minority groups, disabilities, those living in rural areas or conflict zones) to inform policymaking and legal reform. This data should focus on: poverty, violence, illiteracy, unpaid work, migration, access to health care, housing, social and economic benefits, caregiving to those living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, employment (para. 32)
- Inform older women about their rights and how to access legal services. (para. 33)
- Implement police and judiciary training on the rights of older women, including gender and age-sensitivity training on issues that impact these women (para. 32)
- Draft legislation prohibiting all forms of violence against older women, including older women with disabilities (para. 37)
- Investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of violence against older women (para. 37)
- Recalling Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820 and 1889, states should give special attention to violence against older women during armed conflict, the impact armed conflict has on the lives of older women and the contribution of older women in peace processes and post-conflict reconciliation (para. 38)
Want more? Read the full text of GR 27 on the OHCHR’s website
Article primarily concerned: Article 2
19. Discrimination against women on the basis of sex and gender comprises, as stated in general recommendation No. 19 on violence against women, gender-based violence, namely, violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or violence that affects women disproportionately. It is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits women’s ability to enjoy and exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of equality with men. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty, the violence that occurs within the family or domestic unit or within any other interpersonal relationship, or violence perpetrated or condoned by the State or its agents regardless of where it occurs. Gender-based violence may breach specific provisions of the Convention, regardless of whether those provisions expressly mention violence. States parties have a due diligence obligation to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish such acts of gender-based violence.
Article 2 of CEDAW is focused on the role of law, legislation and legal institutions in securing women’s right to non-discrimination, both formally (de jure) and in practice (de facto). General Recommendation No. 28 (GR 28) highlights and supports the significance of this Article in the broader context of gender equality, recognising it as “the very essence of the Convention” and “crucial to its full implementation”.
GR 28 focuses on state obligations under Article 2, calling for the condemnation of all forms of discrimination against women and adoption state policies to eliminating it. To effectively eliminate the sources of discrimination, the policy must be comprehensive and applied indiscriminately to all women regardless of their status within a state (e.g. women migrant workers, asylum seekers). Because VAW is a form of gender-based discrimination, states must also take action to end VAW under Article 2 of CEDAW.
As part eliminating VAW, GR 28 calls attention to each state’s due diligence obligation to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish acts of gender-based violence. Additionally, states are required to:
- Pay specific attention to the needs of girls, as part of the larger community of women, and provide education on sexual and reproductive health, programmes to prevent HIV/AIDS, sexual exploitation and teenage pregnancy (para. 21)
- Provide appropriate remedies and reparations to women whose rights have been violated under CEDAW (para. 32)
- Ensure women have access to affordable and timely remedies when their rights have been violated, including the provisioning of legal and assistance where necessary (para. 34)
- Initiate criminal proceedings and prosecute perpetrators who have violated women’s human rights, such as in cases of domestic violence and VAW at-large (para. 34)
- Provide financial support to independent organisations providing legal resources for women (para. 34)
Want more? Read the full text of GR 28 on the OHCHR’s website
General Recommendation No. 30 (GR 30) recognises the many locations, many perpetrators, and many ways in which conflict leads to violence against women:
Violence against women and girls is a form of discrimination prohibited by the Convention and is a violation of human rights. Conflicts exacerbate existing gender inequalities, placing women at a heightened risk of various forms of gender-based violence by both State and non-State actors. Conflict-related violence happens everywhere, such as in homes, detention facilities and camps for internally displaced women and refugees; it happens at any time, for instance, while performing daily activities such as collecting water and firewood or going to school or work. There are multiple perpetrators of conflict-related gender-based violence. These may include members of government armed forces, paramilitary groups, non-State armed groups, peacekeeping personnel and civilians. Irrespective of the character of the armed conflict, its duration or the actors involved, women and girls are increasingly deliberately targeted for and subjected to various forms of violence and abuse, ranging from arbitrary killings, torture and mutilation, sexual violence, forced marriage, forced prostitution and forced impregnation to forced termination of pregnancy and sterilization. (para. 34)
And after conflict has ended, gender-based violence does not stop. According to many reports, it escalates:
The Committee acknowledges the many reports confirming that, while the forms and sites of violence change, which means that there may no longer be State-sponsored violence, all forms of gender-based violence, in particular sexual violence, escalate in the post-conflict setting. The failure to prevent, investigate and punish all forms of gender-based violence, in addition to other factors such as ineffective disarmament, demobilization and reintegration processes, can also lead to further violence against women in post-conflict periods.
Women and girls in all walks of life are affected by conflict-related violence and the effects of conflict-related gender-based violence are severe (para. 36-37):
During and after conflict, specific groups of women and girls are at particular risk of violence, especially sexual violence, such as internally displaced and refugee women; women’s human rights defenders; women of diverse caste, ethnic, national or religious identities, or other minorities, who are often attacked as symbolic representatives of their community; widows; and women with disabilities. Female combatants and women in the military are also vulnerable to sexual assault and harassment by State and non-State armed groups and resistance movements…
Gender-based violence also leads to multiple additional human rights violations, such as State or non-State attacks on women’s rights defenders, which undermine women’s equal and meaningful participation in political and public life. Conflict-related gender-based violence results in a vast range of physical and psychological consequences for women, such as injuries and disabilities, increased risk of HIV infection and risk of unwanted pregnancy resulting from sexual violence. There is a strong association between gender-based violence and HIV, including the deliberate transmission of HIV, used as a weapon of war, through rape.
To protect women’s rights guaranteed by CEDAW in these scenarios, GR 30’s recommendations include:
- Providing adequate remedies to women for acts of private individual or entities (para. 17.a)
- Rejecting all rollbacks on women’s rights protections aimed at appeasing non-state actors such as terrorist groups (para. 17.b)
- Engaging with non-state actors to prevent human rights abuses in conflict-affected areas, including the prevention of all forms of gender-based violence (para. 17.c)
- Establishing state commitment to codes of conduct on human rights and the prohibition of all forms of gender-based violence (para. 18.b)
- Addressing the gendered impact of international transfers of arms, especially small and illicit arms, including through the ratification and implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty (paragraph 33(e)
- Establishing early-warning measures and gender-specific security measures to prevent escalation of gender-based violence and other violations of women’s rights (para. 33.c)
- The Committee also expresses concerns about the effect of gender-based violence on women’s political participation (paragraph 42-47) access to health and education (para 50-52) and the particular protection needs of women refugees, IDPs and asylum-seekers, particularly through gender-competent camp design.
Want more? Read the full text of GR 30 on the OHCHR’s website
You can also read UN Women’s guidebook on General Recommendation No. 30
[Also issued as Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No.18]
7. Harmful practices are therefore grounded in discrimination based on sex, gender and age, among other things, and have often been justified by invoking sociocultural and religious customs and values, in addition to misconceptions relating to some disadvantaged groups of women and children. Overall, harmful practices are often associated with serious forms of violence or are themselves a form of violence against women and children…
General Comment No. 31 (GR 31) provides states with criteria for identifying harmful practices and a holistic framework for ending them. Female genital mutilation, forced marriage, crimes committed in the name of so-called “honour”, dowry-related violence, widowhood practices and virginity testing, are just some of the harmful practices that violate women and girls’ fundamental human rights. Others are socially-determined body modifications (such as cosmetic surgeries, extreme dieting, fattening, lip discs and neck elongations) which are often injurious to health.(paragraph 9) Because these harmful practices are rooted in discrimination and inequality, they are considered acts of VAW – which require state action to eliminate them under CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s provisions.
Some of the state actions required by GR 31’s holistic framework to end harmful practices include:
- Prioritising the regular and comprehensive collection, analysis and dissemination of data on harmful practices, disaggregated by sex, age, geographic location, socio-economic status, education levels and other key factors. (para. 38.a)
- Adopting or amending legislation to effectively address harmful practices with the goal of eliminating them, including the adoption of temporary special measures to address to root causes of harmful practices (para. 54)
- Ensuring efforts to address harmful practices challenge underlying social norms are community-based and built on a human-rights based approach and include active participation of all relevant stakeholders, particularly women and girls (para. 59)
- Providing women and girls with educational and economic opportunities in a safe and enabling environment where they can develop their self-esteem, an awareness of their rights as well as communication, negotiation and problem solving skills (para. 69.b)
- Developing and adopt comprehensive awareness-raising programmes to challenge and change cultural and social attitudes, traditions and customs that underlie behaviours that perpetuate harmful practices (para. 81.a)
- Ensuring that protection services are mandated and adequately resourced to provide all necessary prevention and protection services to children and women that are or are at high risk of becoming victims of harmful practices, including access to age appropriate information on sexuality and reproduction (para. 87)
Want more? Read the full text of GR 31 on the OHCHR’s website
Article(s) primarily concerned: Article 1; Article 2; Article 3; Article 5; Article 9; Article 10; Article 12; Article 13; Article 15
General recommendation No. 32 (GR 32) reviews the status of women who face displacement and statelessness, and how these contexts increase barriers to eliminating gender-based discrimination. It is designed to provide states guidance on how to meet their obligations under CEDAW with respect to stateless women and women asylum-seekers. GR 32 also expands beyond the boundaries of CEDAW to provide a gender dimension to other international treaties addressing the rights of refugees, asylum-seeking and stateless persons (e.g. the 1951 Refugee Convention).
GR 32 recognises VAW is a major form of persecution experienced by women seeking asylum or who hold refugee status. Female genital mutilation, threats of violence, threats of “honour” crimes, trafficking in women, acid attacks, domestic violence, imposition of the death penalty and political and/or religious persecution for holding feminist views, are just a few of the forms of discriminatory persecution these women have survived. Despite the widespread occurrence of gender-related forms of persecution, the CEDAW Committee expressed concern for the continued treatment of women’s claims through the lens of male experiences within asylum systems. For states to meet their obligations under CEDAW with regard to stateless and displaced women, GR 32 recommends:
- Adopting legislation and other measures to respect the principle of non-refoulement, and take all necessary measures to ensure women facing gender-related forms of persecution are not returned to any country where they would be at risk of or subjected to serious forms of discrimination – including gender-based violence and others who may be subjected to serious forms of discrimination (para. 37)
- Establish adequate screening mechanisms for the early identification of women asylum seekers with specific protection and assistance needs, including victims of sexual violence forced prostitution, women with disabilities, victims of torture and/or ill-treatment (para. 46)
- Given that often gender persecution arises within the family, GR32 recommends that “women asylum seekers have the right to an independent claim to asylum and, in this respect, to be interviewed separately, without the presence of male family members, so that they have the opportunity to present their case;” (para 50a)
- Ensure a supportive interview environment is established so women may give their accounts, especially for survivors of trauma, torture and/or ill-treatment and sexual violence. Sufficient time to provide their accounts must also be provided (para. 50.e)
- Ensure that late disclosure of sexual violence and/or other traumatic events during the asylum procedure does not automatically result in an adverse judgment on her credibility (para. 50.i)
Want more? Read the full text of GR 32 on the OHCHR’s website
Ensuring women’s unhindered, equal access to justice is a crucial step in achieving gender equality, yet it is a right frequently denied. Harmful gender stereotyping, sustained discrimination against women, illiteracy, armed conflict, internal displacement and general lack of independent, impartial judicial systems are just a few barriers that prevent women’s equal access to justice. Without adequate, effective judicial mechanisms accessible to all women, the power imbalances that underlie gender inequalities are sustained. This results in widespread impunity for and social acceptance of gender-based crimes, including VAW.
General Recommendation No. 33 (GR 33) identifies six key components necessary for guaranteeing access to justice: justiciability, availability, accessibility, good quality justice systems, effective remedies and accountability (para. 14). These components are to be protected and guaranteed across specific areas of law – constitutional, civil, family, criminal and administrative – and apply to all types of judicial system.
GR 33 recommendations on state action to eliminate VAW include:
- Provide women human rights defenders have access to justice and are protected from harassment, threats, retaliation and violence (para 15.i)
- Establishing a range of legal and social services through one-stop justice centres that can reduce the steps women have to take in accessing justice. These centres should be accessible to women living in poverty and/or in rural and remote areas. (para. 17.f)
- Adoption of indicators to measures women’s access to justice, for example, the Progress Indicators for Measuring the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (“Belem do Para Convention”) (para. 18.b)
- Ensuring that violations of women’s human rights that occur during conflict or post-conflict situations are not addressed solely through non-judicial remedies; paragraph 19)e) requires reform of justice systems to address this. Gender-based human rights violations should be adequately investigated and prosecuted without the possibility of amnesty (para. 19.f)
- Awareness raising on the negative impact gender stereotyping and bias has on women’s access to justice and encourage advocacy to address these issues – with special regard for VAW cases (para. 29.e)
- Review and review the rules of evidence and their implementation in cases of VAW. Measures should be adopted to ensure evidentiary requirements are not overly restrictive or inflexible and should not be influenced by negative gender stereotypes (para. 51.h)
- Policing and investigation procedures should be improved (paragraph 51(i)
- Develop and implement protocols for police and healthcare providers for the collection and preservation of forensic evidence in cases of VAW (para. 51.k)
- Train adequate numbers of police and forensic staff to competently conduct criminal investigations (para. 51.k)
- Prohibit the referral of cases on VAW to any alternative dispute resolution procedures (para. 58)
Want more? Read the full text of GR 33 on the OHCHR’s website
Article(s) primarily concerned: Article 14 (rural women)
In General Recommendation No. 34 (GR 34), the CEDAW Committee notes the disproportionate practice of violence on women and girls in rural areas, and when they move to cities and requires specialised awareness-raising in rural areas, access to justice and integrated services, such as health services and emergency shelters. GR 34 also acknowledges the important role of women human rights defenders in rural areas. It draws out the links between violence as a barrier to education for women and girls and the links between accessing water, sanitation and safe transport.
GR 34 recommendations on state action to eliminate VAW include:
- Recalling earlier recommendations in GR 31 (2014), eliminate harmful practices that negatively affect the health, well-being and dignity of rural women and girls (para. 23)
- Eliminate discriminatory stereotypes that include those which impact rural women and girls’ equal rights to land, water and other natural resources. Actions in this regard include outreach and support programmes, awareness-raising and media campaigns, in collaboration with traditional leaders and civil society, to eliminate harmful practices and stereotypes (para. 23)
- Recalling GR 19 (1992) and GR 33 (2015), eliminate all forms of violence against rural women and girls, through (para. 25):
- (a) Awareness-raising with the aim of eliminating discriminatory social attitudes and practices, in particular those that condone VAW
- (b) Effective measures aimed at preventing, investigating, prosecuting and punishing acts of violence against rural women and girls, including migrant rural women and girls, whether perpetrated by the state, non-state actors or private persons
- (c) Effective access to justice for rural women and girls, including legal aid, compensation and other forms of redress or reparation, and that authorities at all levels in rural areas have the resources needed and political will to respond to violence against rural women and girls and protect them against retaliation when reporting abuses
- (d) Accessible integrated services for survivors, including emergency shelters and comprehensive health services, that avoid stigmatisation and protect survivors’ privacy and dignity
- (e) Implementing measures to prevent and address threats and attacks against rural women human rights defenders, with particular attention to those engaged on issues relating to land and natural resources, women’s health, including sexual and reproductive rights, the elimination of discriminatory customs and practices and gender-based violence
- Address the root causes of sex work/prostitution/selling sex in women by economically empowering rural women; undertaking awareness-raising efforts in rural areas on the ways traffickers operate; ensure anti-trafficking legislation addresses the social and economic challenges faced by rural women and girls; and provide gender-responsive training on prevention measures, protection and assistance for victims to the judiciary, the police, border guards, other law enforcement officials and social workers – especially in rural and indigenous communities (para. 27)
- Widely disseminate health-care information in local languages and dialects through various media – writing, illustrations, oral delivery – on the need to eliminate VAW, including sexual violence, domestic violence and harmful practices (among other health-related topics, para. 39.f)
- Ensure programmes are in place, inside and outside school systems, to reduce engagement of rural girls in unpaid care work and to protect them from labour exploitation, forced marriage, child marriage and gender-based violence which includes sexual violence and abuse (para. 43.d)
Want more? Read the full text of GR 34 on the OHCHR’s website