Warning: This case deals with topics that are especially grave and may cause trauma invoked by memories of past abuse. If you have experienced violence and need assistance, please refer to this list of country help lines provided by UN Women.
D.G., a Bulgarian national of Roma ethnicity, came to the Netherlands in order to earn money to clear her debts: she was being threatened in Bulgaria because she was not able to pay back a loan. She spent two months working for very little pay in a restaurant, then left and began to work in prostitution. One day she was held hostage at gunpoint by a client, she left prostitution after this, but was unable to pay her rent and became homeless.
She claimed that she was a victim of human trafficking and exploitation, she began various processes to claim assistance with sustainable housing, medical care and welfare benefits, but was found to be ineligible for assistance. A variety of reasons were given: the elapse of time between the violence and exploitation and her current situation, or because she had failed to report specific acts of violence to the police, or because her need was not considered to be compelling. In the meantime, her health worsened, she was experiencing anxiety and depression.
She brought a complaint to CEDAW Committee that the Netherlands failed “to comply with its positive obligation to protect her as a vulnerable person and a victim of gender-based violence (human trafficking). She considers that the procedural requirements imposed on her (residence permit, being homeless, the completion of certain forms) and the lack of proper assessment of her status as a victim violated her rights under the Convention because they prevented her from gaining access to social benefits and shelter.”
What was the decision?
The CEDAW Committee found that she had not substantiated her claim to have been a victim of gender-based violence, and hence, a victim of gender-based discrimination.
This case did not proceed to a full decision, however, D.G.’s situation indicates a complex inter-relation of poverty, exploitation, homelessness and ill-health.
Her situation as a migrant woman of Roma ethnicity was not considered in the case – even though D.G.’s initial submission post-dates General Recommendation No. 28 on the Core Obligations of States Parties under Article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 16 December 2010, CEDAW/C/GC/28, paragraph 18, which indicates that: “Intersectionality is a basic concept for understanding the scope of the general obligations of States parties contained in article 2. The 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. Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender may affect women belonging to such groups to a different degree or in different ways to men. States parties must legally recognize such intersecting forms of discrimination and their compounded negative impact on the women concerned and prohibit them.”
D.G.’s situation shows also how women with complex needs, vulnerabilities and histories often fall between different government initiatives; and how some women experience vulnerability which makes them distrustful of the authorities, or perceive that seeking help might make their situation worse. In these cases, as with domestic violence cases, women sometimes report their vulnerability and need, then withdraw when they feel that they are not going to get the assistance they need. It is noticeable that the CEDAW Committee has shown understanding of that experience in domestic violence cases (for example, X and Y v Georgia (2015)) but did not extend that understanding to other kinds of reports to authorities.