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Timeline of policy commitments and international agreements

Last edited: October 31, 2010

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Decades of advocacy efforts led by the women’s movement and grassroots organizations across all regions have led to the recognition that violence against women and girls is a manifestation of systematic gender discrimination and inequality, a violation of human rights and detrimental to development. The historical developments below highlight the building momentum and increasing attention to violence against women on international and regional agendas:

  • Early 20th century: Trafficking and sexual exploitation identified as a concern within international conventions.

  • 1975-1985: Advocacy during the United Nations Decade of Women leads to increased prominence of the issue on the international agenda, with an initial focus on domestic violence, later expanding to cover various forms of violence against women (domestic violence, trafficking and sexual exploitation, women in detention and during armed conflict), and their linkages with development, peace and gender equality.

  • Resolution on violence in the family adopted at the 1980 Second World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women (Copenhagen), calling for programming to end violence and protect women and children from physical and mental abuse.

  • Forward-Looking Strategies from the 1985 Third World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women (Nairobi) called for comprehensive national prevention and response efforts through legislation, policies, support to survivors and public awareness.

  • 1979: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW was adopted (entered into force in 1981) and its Optional Protocol (2000). It is a legally binding instrument that defines discrimination against women, identifies several forms of such discrimination, and establishes an agenda for national action to end all forms of discrimination against women. States parties to this international treaty are obligated to undertake all measures necessary to protect and maintain women’s human rights and end all forms of discrimination against them (due diligence standard), as well as submit national reports periodically on measures taken to comply with their treaty obligations. Though the original Convention did not explicitly mention violence against women and girls, General Recommendations 12 and 19 clarified that the Convention includes violence against women and makes detailed recommendations to States parties.

  • 1985: General Assembly Resolution on Domestic Violence (A/RES/40/36) adopted.
  • 1989: The Convention on the Rights of the Child or CRC was adopted (entered into force in 1990). The Convention is legally binding and obligates States parties to recognize and uphold children’s basic human rights and protections, without discrimination, including with respect to abuse - protection from all forms of violence by parents or other caretakers (Article 19), sexual exploitation (Article 34) and trafficking (Article 35).

  • 1993: Coordinated advocacy by women’s movement and governments at the World Conference on Human Rights led to recognition of violence against women as a human rights violation and called for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on violence against women in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action; and contributed to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.

  • 1993: The landmark Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) was adopted, providing a framework for analysis and action at the national and international levels.

  • 1993: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established, which included prosecution of sexual violence within its mandate and advanced international legal responses to sexual violence in conflict, such as specific rules of procedure for submitting evidence in sexual violence cases.

  • 1994: The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established, which included sexual violence in its statute and made the first conviction of rape as a crime of genocide. The Criminal Tribunal has also developed a manual on best practices in investigating and prosecuting sexual violence in conflict.

  • 1994: The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences was appointed to seek and receive information on violence against women, its causes and consequences from governments, treaty bodies, specialized agencies, other special rapporteurs and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences.  The Special Rapporteur produces both country visit reports and annual thematic reports on the issue.

  • 1994: International Conference on Population and Development resulted in recognition of the linkages between violence against women and reproductive health and rights, from the health consequences of domestic violence and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation/ cutting, to women’s increased risk of HIV and AIDS as a result of violence. The Program of Action called upon governments to take legal and policy measures to respond and prevent violence against women and girls.

  • 1994: Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém do Pará) was adopted. It is the first and only legally binding instrument at the regional level on violence against women.

  • 1995: Beijing Platform for Action identified specific areas of action for governments to take in prevention and response to violence against women and girls. The issue of violence against women features as a chapter, and one of the twelve areas for priority action, with an expansive definition of forms of violence.

  • 1996: The United Nations Trust Fund in Support of Actions to Eliminate Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women) was established by General Assembly resolution 50/166 in 1996 as the only multilateral grant-making mechanism that supports local, national and regional efforts to end violence against women and girls.  The Fund is managed by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on behalf of the UN system.

  • 1998: The International Criminal Court (entered into force in 2002) was established, which prosecutes sexual violence and gender crimes within the context of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and has established a Gender and Children’s Unit to improve investigation and prosecution of crimes related to gender inequality, including rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated against women and children.

  • 1999: 25th November was designated United Nations International Day for the elimination of violence against women (which also marked United Nations formally joining the ’16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence’ proclaimed and commemorated by the international women’s movement since 1991).

  • 2000: Security Council Resolution 1325 was passed, calling for special protective measures for women and girls in armed conflict and emphasized the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity for perpetrators.

  • 2002: South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution, a legally binding instrument was adopted.

  • 2003: Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa was adopted, with a dedicated article on violence against women (4) in addition to references throughout the Protocol.

  • 2004: The Commission on Human Rights appointed a Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

  • 2006: The Secretary-General’s In-Depth Study on All Forms of Violence against Women was released, the first comprehensive report on the issue. General Assembly Resolutions have been adopted bi-annually since on the Intensification of efforts to end violence against women.

  • 2008: The United Nations Secretary-General launches an unprecedented global campaign, UNiTE to End Violence against Women calling on governments, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, the private sector, the media and the entire UN system  to: 1) Adopt and enforce national laws to address and punish all forms of violence against women and girls; 2) Adopt and implement multi-sectoral national action plans; 3) Strengthen data collection on the prevalence of violence against women and girls; 4) Increase public awareness and social mobilization; and 5) Address sexual violence in conflict by 2015.

  • 2008: The Security Council adopted the landmark Resolution 1820, the first devoted to addressing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.

  • 2009: The Security Council adopted Resolution 1888 on the issue of sexual violence in armed conflict situations, providing concrete actions such as calling for the designation of a special representative to the Secretary-General on the issue, deploying international legal experts and women peace advisers to strengthen responses to sexual violence in conflict, and requesting annual reports on the resolution’s implementation.

  • 2009: The Security Council adopted Resolution 1889, which aims to strengthen implementation of Resolution 1325, and specifically addresses women’s low participation and limited funding for women’s needs (including physical safety and access to services) in the post-conflict and peacebuilding periods.