Domestic violence

What is domestic violence?

The term domestic violence is gender neutral. A simple definition of the term is: “any violence against an individual within the context of the family or an intimate relationship.” Terms such as family violence, marital violence, intimate partner violence and so on express overlapping and slightly differing shades of domestic violence. What constitutes ‘violence’ within the context of the family has always been defined based on social and cultural notions in a given society. Violence is an act committed to put down, silence, and to keep under control someone with the intention of hurting or humiliating the person. Domestic violence is an abuse of power. It is the domination, coercion, intimidation and victimization of one person by another by physical, mental, sexual or emotional and financial means within intimate relationships. The worst kind of violence is usually directed against the female member within the family and within the intimate relationship of marriage.

(From: Aruna Burte, Breaking the Culture of Silence, CEHAT, 2008, p.23)

Why is domestic violence a health-care issue?

Research on violence against women – especially male partner violence – has increased. Since 2005, when the first results of the World Health Organization (WHO) Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence were launched, the number of intimate partner violence prevalence studies increased fourfold, from 80 to more than 300, in 2008. We now have population-based prevalence data on intimate partner violence from more than 90 countries, although there are still some regions – such as the Middle East and west Africa – where there is relatively limited data. Similarly, there is also a growing body of evidence about the range of negative health and development consequences of this violence. Women suffer violent deaths either directly – through homicide – or indirectly, through suicide, maternal causes and AIDS. Violence is also an important cause of morbidity from multiple mental, physical, sexual and reproductive health outcomes, and it is also linked with known risk factors for poor health, such as alcohol and drug use, smoking and unsafe sex. Violence during pregnancy has also been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, premature delivery and low birth weight.

When the cumulative impacts on mortality and morbidity are assessed, the health burden is often higher than for other, more commonly accepted, public health priorities. In Mexico City, for example, rape and intimate partner violence against women was estimated to be the third most important cause of morbidity and mortality, accounting for 5.6% of all disability-adjusted life years lost. In Victoria, Australia, partner violence accounted for 7.9% of the overall disease burden among women of reproductive age and was a larger risk to health than factors such as raised blood pressure, tobacco use and increased body weight.

In addition to the human costs, research also shows that violence has huge economic costs, including the direct costs to health, legal, police and other services. In 2002, Health Canada estimated that the direct medical costs of all forms of violence against women was 1.1 billion Canadian dollars. In low-resource settings, relatively few women may seek help from formal services, but because of the high prevalence of violence, the overall costs are substantial. In Uganda, for example, the cost of domestic violence was estimated at 2.5 million United States dollars in 2007.

(From: Violence Against Women: An Urgent Public Health Priority. India Current Affairs, 10 Jan. 2011)

What are the main sources?

Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

The first major recognition of women’s rights as human rights occurred in the 1970s when the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was drafted and adopted by a majority of member states of the UN.  Although CEDAW does not include specific provisions on violence against women, subsequent developments in international law and in interpreting CEDAW have recognized violence as constituting a violation of women’s human rights. From 1975 to 1985 the Division for the Advancement of Women, a branch of the United Nations Secretariat specializing in issues concerning the status of women, was responsible for arranging three World Conferences on Women – in Mexico, Copenhagen and Nairobi. However the issue of violence against women was not a central issue in any of these conferences.

General Recommendation 19

Since the 1990s there was a major advancement towards mainstreaming gender-based violence into the global human rights agenda. In 1992, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women recognized violence against women as a human rights issue. In their 11th session, under General Recommendation 19, the CEDAW Committee in 1992 interpreted the term ‘discrimination’ in Article 1 of CEDAW to include violence “that is disproportionately directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately. It includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty. Gender-based violence may breach specific provisions of the Convention, regardless of whether those provisions expressly mention violence”.

According to General Recommendation 19, the rights impaired by domestic violence include:

a. The right to life,

b. The right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,

c. The right to equal protection according to humanitarian norms in the time of international or internal armed conflict,

d. The right to liberty and security of person,

e. The right to equal protection under the law,

f. The right to equality within the family,

g. The right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and

h. The right to just and favourable conditions of work.

UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 1993 (DEVAW) affirms “that violence against women constitutes a violation of the rights and fundamental freedoms of women and impairs or nullifies their enjoyment of those rights and freedoms” and describes concerns “about the long-standing failure to protect and promote those rights and freedoms in the case of violence against women”.



Topics: , , ,
Type of resource: Books and reports

Domestic Violence Legislation and its Implementation. An analysis for ASEAN countries based on international standards and good practices (2009) - Lawyers Collective Women’s Rights Initiative (Indira Jaising, Asmita Basu, Brototi Dutta)
United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

Open resource
Topics: , ,
Type of resource: Books and reports

WHO multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence against women: summary report of initial results on prevalence, health outcomes and women’s responses (2005)

Open resource