It's hard to believe that up to the 20th century, many countries legally allowed husbands to use violence to enforce authority over their wives. For instance, it was only in 1878 that the United Kingdom Matrimonial Causes Act made it legal for women who experienced violence within a marriage to get separation orders.
Although we've come a long way since that time, even today, intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence women face. It affects women of all ages, regardless of income, location or social status. In addition to the grave impact that domestic violence has on women’s physical and emotional well-being, it also carries significant economic impacts in terms of undermining women’s educational and employment opportunities, income earning capability and advancement in the workplace.
For economies to achieve the goal of attaining gender equality, having legislation that protects women from intimate partner violence is one of the critical pieces of the puzzle. It is the crucial first step toward providing legal protection, reducing impunity and opening avenues of redress.
Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform examines how women must navigate discriminatory legal systems at every point in their career, limiting their equality of opportunity. One of the issues analyzed by this study is whether there is legislation specifically addressing domestic violence.
The study shows that over the past decade, 47 economies across all regions introduced laws protecting women from intimate partner violence, thereby improving their performance within the Getting Married indicator. Data from Women, Business and the Law 2009 shows that only 53% of economies protected women from domestic violence at the time. Over the past ten years, that figure has risen to 78%. In this period, 63% of economies in South Asia reformed by introducing laws on domestic violence. However, it should be noted that in terms of number of economies per region, South Asia is the smallest with 8 economies. Additionally, 36% of the economies in Europe and Central Asia and East Asia and the Pacific and 28% of economies in Sub-Saharan Africa also reformed in this area. Women, Business and the Law 2018 data shows that the OECD high income and Latin America and the Caribbean regions have highest percentage of economies with laws protecting women from intimate partner violence (97%), while in the Middle East and North Africa, only 32% of economies have such laws.
The trajectory of reform around the world begs the question on how it happens. One of the triggers that leads to reforms benefitting gender equality is advocacy by women’s groups. For instance, in Brazil, advocacy by women’s groups on behalf of a domestic violence survivor, Maria Da Penha, inspired legislators to introduce a law on domestic violence in her honor. Research also shows that between 1990 and 2015, the number of economies introducing laws addressing domestic violence rose sharply from close to zero to 118. This increase was triggered in large part by international and regional human rights conventions and campaigns such as the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention of Belem do Para and more recently the Council of Europe Convention on prevention and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), among others. One study shows that eight years after the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), countries were 23.4% more likely to adopt full legal protections against domestic violence.
According to Women, Business and the Law 2018 data, 145 economies now have laws protecting women from intimate partner violence. However, 42 economies around the world still have no such legislation. While great strides have been made in terms of protecting women from intimate partner violence, much more needs to be done. The movement to protect women from violence has come a long way since the 20th century—let’s keep the momentum going.