When we launched Everywoman Everywhere in 2014, the goal was to create a global legal tool such as a UN Convention or an Additional Protocol that would lead to the end violence against women and girls worldwide. Now as we prepare to launch the public campaign, we’re examining three potential treaty frameworks to determine which would be the most effective: an additional protocol to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); a new stand-alone human rights treaty; or a new stand-alone treaty with a public health frame.

Everywoman Everywhere members made the case for each framework in a call on November 27 to members of the Working Group, a collection of gender and policy experts across the globe. Summaries of their presentations are below.



An additional protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), housed with the UN Human Rights Office, and governed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 

Presented by Ferdous Ara Begum, MPA (Harvard), Member of the Board of Trustees, HelpAge International; Council Member, The International Institute on Ageing (UN-Malta) Satellite Centre for SAARC Countries; former member of UN CEDAW Committee; former Director General, Bangladesh Television; and member of Everywoman Everywhere’s Working Group, South Asia

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) addresses violence against women and girls in General Recommendations No. 19 and 35. The recommendations make clear that violence against women is a form of gender discrimination, and that states are obligated to adopt legal measures and policies to prevent violence, protect survivors, and punish perpetrators.

The Convention and the Committee have already developed legal frameworks on gender-based violence, laying a foundation for global norms that have informed domestic standards and have use to inform by women’s groups for advocacy.

Gaps in the legal framework and implementation of standards at the national level have arisen from a lack of domestic coordination between legislation, policy and social services. The gaps include: an adequate legal framework specific to violence against women and girls at the regional and domestic level; access to a legal system for women, not being there in most a cases; and lack of enforcement on the existing legal framework on violence against women and girls in most countries.

An additional protocol would address these legal and implementation gaps. The new guidelines can include language on how to achieve domestic implementation, specifically by focusing on the commitment of political will, along with steps that must be taken to enforce relevant regional and domestic frameworks.

The better approach to me is a separate, stand-alone treaty on violence against women at the global level. But an additional protocol offers a more readily available option. The well-established Convention and Committee provide an existing human rights framework in which to work, and are already working directly with states toward compliance.



A stand-alone treaty housed with the UN Human Rights Office, and governed by a new committee created to ensure the treaty’s implementation 

Presented by David L. Richards, associate professor of Human Rights & Political Science, University of Connecticut, USA; author of Violence Against Women and the Law (Routledge 2015); member of Everywoman Everywhere Working Group, North America 

On the global calls, I spoke on behalf of the “stand-alone treaty” option. I made three general points, outlined in my speaking notes below. 

  1. Using an Optional Protocol Would be Out of the Norm of Practice

Optional protocols can function like miniature treaties. However, optional protocols (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)/Convention Against Torture (CAT) Torture/Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, etc.) are typically used in international law for purposes of communicating complaints, monitoring, and committee functions related to a legally-binding substantive right established in the main body. Even optional protocols like the second optional protocol to the ICCPR serve to better-define existing treaty language rather than create new rights. For example, the second optional protocol to the ICCPR that prohibits the death penalty is best seen as a clarification and/or extension to Article 6’s commitment to the inherent right to life.

  • Thus, using an optional protocol to CEDAW to establish a new, legally-binding right itself would be outside the norm of practice.
  • To remain in the norm of practice, one would have to truly view violence against women and girls (VAWG) as best-understood, for all legal purposes, as a form of discrimination, rather than vice versa where VAWG is an issue unto itself and discrimination is an inherent component, among others.
    • Such confusion already exists across levels of law. Article 6 of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women (1994) asserts that “The right of every woman to be free from violence includes, among others: (a) The right of women to be free from all forms of discrimination”. On the other hand, CEDAW’s General Recommendation 19 asserts that violence against women is a form of discrimination.
  1. There is Precedent for a Standalone Route

Through 1970, the prohibition against torture existed in no less than 8 pieces of international law. Yet, its usage in the 1960s and 1970s continued, unabated. So, in 1975 the UN issued a Declaration on the Protection of Persons Against Torture. In December 1977 the general assembly asked the Commission on Human Rights to draft the text of a binding treaty against torture. VAWG finds itself in a similar situation as was torture, in that its prohibition exists across a fragmented landscape of regional, omnibus international, and non-binding components of the international legal fabric.

The CAT created binding conceptual cohesion in its requirement that states create a definition of torture in their domestic codes that didn’t have to be identical to CAT’s articles 1 and 16, but had to align with their object and purpose.

  • Because laws can differ so wildly in strength and scope, the conceptual homogeneity of CAT created greater equality in determining across countries what actions against victims were to be considered what kinds of violations.
    • Empirical work has shown that states look at their neighborhoods with regards to legal standards relating to VAWG, so a standalone has a great potential to bring substantive depth to increased conformity.

CAT also imposed an obligation on states to protect against acts of torture and ill-treatment, as well as established that the passivity of public officials in situations where protection was warranted is actionable. 

  1. General vs Specific Laws

General Recommendation 19  is not legally binding. States, in general, do not regard treaty committee recommendations as legally binding. Thus, CEDAW offers no more to fighting VAWG than a general assault and battery law offers to victims in places without specific legal prohibitions against domestic violence.

One central reason specific treaties exist is to establish, in a legally-binding fashion, that certain groups of persons are at special risk of special types of injuries against human dignity. It is morally imperative, I believe, that states recognize, in legally-binding form, that the gender component of a woman’s overall identity carries significant risk that requires specific guarantees of protection. From a practical legal perspective, recent research has found that, in the context of domestic legal frameworks, specific laws against VAWG are reliably associated with both increased women’s political empowerment and better health-related outcomes. Time and again in in empirical analyses, explicit legal guarantees against gender violence have been shown to be a more-effective safeguard of women’s rights than how long a state has been part of the CEDAW framework. This is not to say CEDAW has not been helpful. It has moved the legal protections for women and girls from the realm of the abysmal. However, can it get us to the place where states have the specific, binding laws and proactive, programmatic functions that women deserve and demand? My answer would be “No, we need a specific stand-alone treaty.”



A specific, stand-alone treaty under the World Health Organization, governed by a new committee created to ensure the treaty’s implementation

Presented by Lisa Shannon, MPA (Harvard), Hon PhD Georgetown, cofounder of Everywoman Everywhere, cofounder Sister Somalia, and author of Mama Koko and the Hundred Gunman, and A Thousand Sisters.

The idea of a specific, stand-alone treaty under the World Health Organization builds on the notion of a stand-alone treaty in general. Positioning the treaty with WHO rather than the UN’s human rights framework, though, give us tremendous flexibility to create a proactive, specific, evidence-based convention that get directly at our goal of producing measurable reductions in violence against women, on the way to elimination.

How? To begin with, human rights treaties are fundamentally “reactive”. They create a global standard and monitor whether states live up to those expectations. Framing the Everywoman Everywhere Treaty in public health terms opens the door to a proactive approach, one that lists concrete steps nations must take, rather than standards open to interpretation.

WHO has put forth one treaty so far, the Tobacco Treaty, and though tobacco and violence against women are vastly different issues, this treaty offers a template for addressing violence against women and girls. First, it positions violence against women as a broad, intersectional issue. WHO says that in order for interventions to be effective, they must occur across all government sectors: justice, security, social services and health. Imagine if a number of government offices were all simultaneously addressing violence against women as part of a legal mandate. The effect would be extraordinary.

To be clear, a public health approach would not disconnect violence against women from human rights. The language in the legal reform and education campaigns would be human rights based. Rather, a public health frame allows for those partial to CEDAW to view a new treaty as complementary to its work, rather than competitive. Removing a potential political barrier through a public health framework would hopefully create a climate of collaboration and support.

Second, while violence against women differs greatly from the health hazard of tobacco, both are framed as cultural and in the personal domain. People wondered how on earth we’d tell the Irish they couldn’t smoke in a pub. Yet over time, views changed.

The Tobacco treaty also has a clear, evidenced-based structure. It outlines six interventions proven to work in lowering tobacco consumption, including health warnings on cigarette packages, high taxes on tobacco, and public education campaigns. The clear expectations—you’ve either put warnings on cigarette packages or you have not—has helped make the Tobacco treaty one of the most well implemented treaties on record.

A new treaty would do the same: require states to enact specific evidence-based practices proven to effectively address violence against women. For example: comprehensive legislative reform. Countries that have implemented legislative reform and laws in the area of domestic violence have seen a dramatic drop in violence against women: women are 14 percent more likely to live to age 65 in nations that have domestic violence laws.

Lastly, WHO established an implementation fund for the Tobacco Treaty in which states contributed according to their ability. Funds are often one reason states give for not implementing a treaty requirement. This is a vital step that would remove that barrier to implementation.

The public health frame is new and a shift in how we’ve thought about addressing violence against women and girls in the past, but it offers the best means of moving a treaty forward. It’s politically expedient, builds on the human rights work already being done, and allows for great flexibility.

MORE: The Governing Bodies Committee outlined Governing Bodies Committee CEDAW Notes.

Have a thought or comment on these approaches? Email us at info@everywomaneverywhere.com