Legislation on violence against women: overview of key components

Gaby Ortiz-Barreda, Carmen Vives-Cases
Pan American Journal of Public Health 2013, 33 (1): 61-72
This study aimed to determine if legislation on violence against women (VAW) worldwide contains key components recommended by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the United Nations (UN) to help strengthen VAW prevention and provide better integrated victim protection, support, and care. A systematic search for VAW legislation using international legal databases and other electronic sources plus data from previous research identified 124 countries/territories with some type of VAW legislation. Full legal texts were found for legislation from 104 countries/territories. Those available in English, Portuguese, and Spanish were downloaded and compiled and the selection criteria applied (use of any of the common terms related to VAW, including intimate partner violence (IPV), and reference to at least two of six sectors (education, health, judicial system, mass media, police, and social services) with regard to VAW interventions (protection, support, and care). A final sample from 80 countries/territories was selected and analyzed for the presence of key components recommended by PAHO and the UN (reference to the term "violence against women" in the title; definitions of different types of VAW; identification of women as beneficiaries; and promotion of (reference to) the participation of multiple sectors in VAW interventions). Few countries/territories specifically identified women as the beneficiaries of their VAW legislation, including those that labeled their legislation "domestic violence" law ( n = 51), of which only two explicitly mentioned women as complainants/survivors. Only 28 countries/territories defined the main forms of VAW (economic, physical, psychological, and sexual) in their VAW legislation. Most highlighted the role of the judicial system, followed by that of social services and the police. Only 28 mentioned the health sector. Despite considerable efforts worldwide to strengthen VAW legislation, most VAW laws do not incorporate the key recommended components. Significant limitations were found in the legislative content, its application, and the extent to which it provided women with integrated protection, support, and care. In developing new VAW legislation, policymakers should consider the vital role of health services.

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