On this page



Regional organisations are established by states to foster cooperation in specific areas of interest and to achieve common goals. Unlike the United Nations, these organisations typically focus on a geographical area with restricted membership (with the exception of the League of Arab States). They can also form partnerships and exchange knowledge with other regional organisations (see, for example the ‘Afro-Arab Cooperation’ between the League of Arab States and African Union). These organisations can also coordinate action with the United Nations (UN) to address specific issues of concern, and have been recognised by the UN as pivotal actors in the protection and promotion of human rights, peace and security, and development.

Regional organisations have had an important role in tackling violence against women and gender-based discrimination. Because of their regional orientation, each organisation has the ability to address challenges women face in unique situations and contexts. Through the creation of regional plans of action, bodies to protect and promote women’s rights, receiving individual complaints on gender-based violence and hosting thematic events, regional organisations establish their own approaches to tackling violence against women.

Regional Treaties

There are three legally binding treaties in the world that directly address violence against women. Each of these have been drafted and adopted by a regional organisation. The treaties capture the lived experiences of women and the regional challenges to achieving gender equality:

TreatyCouncil of Europe: Council of Europe Convention on the preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention)

The Istanbul Convention is, in terms of its scope, the most advanced treaty in the world – addressing violence against women and domestic violence both as a human rights treaty and a criminal law treaty. The dual nature of this treaty provides a holistic and comprehensive legal framework requiring states to take action to prevent gender-based violence, protect survivors of violence and end impunity for perpetrators. It also calls on states to develop and implement integrated policies to end violence against women through criminal and law proceedings, as well as policies aimed at promoting substantive equality between women and men. The Istanbul Convention’s approach allows gender-based violence to be addressed as a form of discrimination and reinforce state obligation under international human rights law, while simultaneously providing detailed guidance on what actions must be taken to tackle specific types of violence. [Read more…]

TreatyOrganization of American States: Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Belém do Pará Convention)

The Belém do Pará Convention was the first legally binding treaty in the world exclusively focused on the elimination of violence against women, entering into force in 1995. It addresses violence against women as an assault on human dignity and a violation of women’s human rights and fundamental freedoms and, for the first time, established the right of every woman to live a life free from violence. The impact of the Belém do Pará Convention has been far-reaching and has been used to change the way we understand state obligation to end violence against women. The application of the Belém do Pará Convention in Maria Da Penha Maia Fernandes v. Brazil, for example, recognised that “…general and discriminatory judicial ineffectiveness also creates a climate that is conducive to domestic violence, since society sees no evidence of willingness by the State, as the representative of the society, to take effective action to sanction such acts.” [Read more…]

TreatyAfrican Union: Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol)

The Maputo Protocol is a women’s rights treaty adopted to complement the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. It covers a wide spectrum of women’s rights and incorporates the unique challenges women face in a variety of contexts – including violence in the family, at work, in their communities and during times of armed conflict. The Maputo Protocol calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against women within the rights to life, integrity and security of the person (Article 4), with other provisions reinforcing state obligation to end gender-based violence and discrimination. It is the first women’s rights treaty in the world to call for the elimination of female genital mutilation (Article 5) and address the HIV/AIDS pandemic through women’s experiences of it (Article 14).

Other Regional Organisations

We have begun by highlighting five regional organisations, but there are more to consider:

Use the links on the right-hand sidebar (or, for mobile users, at the bottom of this page) to learn more about the work of regional organisations in tackling violence against women – and how civil society can engage with it.

Icon Key