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Domestic Violence Against Women: A Human Rights Issue

Human rights are the basic and fundamental rights to which all humans are entitled by virtue of being born in a family. The fundamental rationale behind the concept of human rights is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Human rights are based on equality – and its basic philosophy strikes at the root of discrimination against humans. The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “[…] Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Human rights are supposed to negate gender inequality and discrimination – but in the case of women, the reality is often divorced from the theoretical concepts and ideal perceptions. Women form one of the most vulnerable sections of society, and they have been facing violence and discrimination since times immemorial. Women often bear the brunt of hypocrisy and discrimination, right from the moment they are conceived in their mothers’ wombs. Then, they have to face it in the different stages of their lives – as daughters, as sisters, as wives, as mothers, and above all, as women.

Violence against women is a universal issue and a direct violation of their basic human rights. There are many forms of violence directed against women which have been condemned globally. However, one certain type of violence (domestic violence) has not been condemned with the severity it merits. Instead, it is actually complicitly condoned and accepted as a social norm in many parts of the world.

Domestic violence against women means any act of violence that is directed against women in a domestic setting. It may be physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence or the threat of such violence inflicted against her – by a person intimately connected to her through marriage or family relations with the intention of subduing her or controlling her. Earlier, it was often considered to be a private/individual matter, but it is actually a social disease – the consequence of the established gender inequality within the society, buttressed by existing structures of power in gender relations, entrenched by traditional educational systems, ingrained by religious and dogmatic beliefs and media influences.

Domestic violence shakes the very foundation of society, and stands as an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace. It is not merely a physical form of violence, which leaves behind only physical injuries. It is also an emotional, psychological pattern of violence which devastates and destroys the identity and person-hood of a woman. It eats at her dignity and erodes her self-worth in the long term. Domestic violence by an intimate partner has harmful effects on a woman’s sexual and reproductive health – like unwanted pregnancies, gynaecological disorders, physical injury to private parts and large-scale impacts on mental health.

Measures against domestic violence are implicitly mentioned in each and every global convention and declaration that seeks an end to violence against women and exhorts equality among humans. It is implicit in:

1. Articles 1, 5, 16 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

2. Article 12(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966

3. Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 1966

4. Article 4(c) of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW)

Domestic violence violates a woman’s right to a dignified life, her rights against torture and inhuman treatment, her right to liberty and security, and her right against all forms of discrimination. Now, it is widely treated as a human rights issue which violates the basic rights of women.

Here, it would be pertinent to mention the case of Jessica Gonzales vs the US. Jessica’s case was the first domestic violence survivor to initiate legal action against the US before an international body. In the case, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held that the domestic violence is a violation of a woman’s basic human rights. Likewise, in the case of Opuz vs Turkey, the European court has also held that domestic violence is a human rights issue that violates the basic rights of an individual.

In 2004, the United Nations General Assembly also specifically addressed domestic violence in Resolution 58/147, titled “Elimination of Domestic Violence Against Women”. In this resolution, the General Assembly recognised that domestic violence is a human rights issue with serious immediate and long-term consequences. It strongly condemned all forms of domestic violence against women and called for an elimination of violence in families. One of the recent developments in the area of human rights and domestic violence is the adoption of the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence by the Council of Europe in April 2011.

Domestic violence is now recognised as a human rights issue – the European Court’s jurisprudence and the decision of the IACHR being very significant in this regard. Conventions have called for an end to this menace.

Yet, there is a wide gulf between the articulation of these goals and their accomplishment. Women continue to suffer in the confines of their homes and in the secrecy of their families. The lives of these women are brutalised, and their rights are trampled upon. ‘Unremedied’ domestic violence essentially denies women equality before the law and reinforces their ‘subordinate’ social status.

Ending domestic violence is a long-term aim achievable only through individual daily efforts for non-violent behavior and peaceful resolution of conflicts. An atmosphere of no tolerance against this violence needs to be created. People need to be made aware of this menace by properly educating and sensitising them about the issue.

Also, stringent action should be taken against culprits. Faster remedies need to be provided to people who face such violence. Until a multi-faceted strategy is adopted, the prevention of domestic violence will remain an elusive dream.

A version of this post was first published here.

The author studies law at the University of Kashmir, and is currently doing an internship with the State Human Rights Commission, Jammu and Kashmir.


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