International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Published: 25 November 2023

25 November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. These annual international campaigns aim to bring together individuals and organisations around the world to tackle violence against women and girls.

Violence against women and girls is recognised under international law as a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination. Gender-based violence is defined as violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or that affects women disproportionately. This includes rape and sexual offences, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.

Some women and girls are more likely to experience certain forms of violence. Our recently published Equality and Human Rights Monitor highlighted that disabled women in England and Wales are more likely to experience rape and sexual assault than non-disabled women. Disabled people in England are also more likely to experience domestic abuse and violence.

Compliance with the Istanbul Convention

In July 2022, the UK Government ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention. We welcome this important step.

Ratification of this Convention has given both the UK and Welsh governments new international legal obligations to eliminate violence against women and girls. The Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) are now looking into whether the UK is meeting its legal obligations.

We will be contributing to this process to advance improvements for women and girls by publishing a comprehensive report in the new year. This will include our independent analysis of what is and is not working and our recommendations for change.

Some of our priority areas of concern include: 

  • police-perpetrated violence against women and girls
  • the treatment of migrant victims of violence against women and girls, and
  • the experiences of victims within the criminal justice system.

We are also calling for greater protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Worker Protection Act

Despite existing legal protections, sexual harassment remains widespread in many workplaces. It is often unreported and not properly addressed by employers. Our landmark 2018 report, Turning the Tables: ending sexual harassment in the workplace, which highlighted the nature and prevalence of sexual harassment has finally led to much needed enhanced legal protection.

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023, introduced by Wera Hobhouse MP, places a proactive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

We will enforce the new duty which comes into effect in October 2024 and update our existing technical guidance on sexual harassment. This will set out the steps that employers should take to comply with the law. We will consult fully with our stakeholders on this guidance.

This new legislation originally contained provisions that would prevent workers from being harassed by third parties such as customers or clients. This vital protection was dropped after scrutiny by parliamentarians because they were concerned it would limit free speech.

Our view is that these provisions would not affect freedom of expression. We are  extremely concerned about the consequences this will have for women in customer service roles. We urge the UK Government to address this gap in protection and help employers to ensure their female employees are protected against harassment from customers, clients and patients.

What needs to happen next?

We welcome the UK Government’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention. We call on both the UK and Welsh Governments to do more to deliver on their commitments. It is critical that women and girls’ right to live free from violence is protected.