Gender-based violence does not go away on its own, now is the time to act

Any form of violence against any part of society affects everyone in society

March 13, 2023
Photo: Elyor Nemat

There are various forms of gender-based violence, which refers to any violence inflicted on individuals due to their gender identity, that remain a persistent issue affecting millions of people worldwide. This problem has significant impacts on individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole, and undermines economic development and human empowerment. Gender-based violence is a violation of human rights and a manifestation of gender inequality, perpetuated by patriarchal power structures and cultural norms prioritizing men over women. Its effects are far-reaching and can have immediate and long-term impacts, affecting physical, psychological, and social well-being.

Domestic violence is a form of gender-based violence that typically occurs within the context of an intimate relationship, such as between spouses, partners, or family members. It can take many forms, including physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual violence, psychological torment, and financial abuse. Domestic violence can occur in any type of relationship, regardless of gender, but as global evidence shows, it mostly impacts women.

Based on data from the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that approximately one in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence by a non-partner in their lifetime. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the issue of gender-based violence and domestic violence. The pandemic led to a global surge in domestic violence cases, which has been so expansive in scope that UN Women referred to it as a shadow pandemic. The lockdowns, economic instability, and social isolation caused by the pandemic have created a breeding ground for gender-based violence to occur and persist, making it more crucial than ever to address this issue and provide support to those affected.

Domestic violence is a pervasive issue that can affect people from all walks of life, regardless of age, ethnicity, education level, or socioeconomic status. However, women who belong to marginalized or minority groups may be at higher risk of experiencing domestic violence due to the intersection of multiple forms of discrimination. For example, women who are members of ethnic minority groups, or those with disabilities may face additional barriers to seeking help and support. These women may also experience discrimination and bias from service providers or law enforcement, which can further exacerbate the problem. Therefore, it is essential to recognize and address the unique challenges faced by these individuals and provide them with tailored support and resources to help them escape abusive situations.

Gender-based violence has significant economic costs, both globally and within specific regions. Research has shown that globally, the cost of violence against women could amount to approximately 2 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion - the size of the economy of Canada. Additionally, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has estimated the cost of gender-based violence across the European Union to be around €366 billion per year. These costs include direct costs, such as medical expenses and legal fees, as well as indirect costs, such as lost productivity, missed workdays, and the impact on mental health and well-being. The economic burden of gender-based violence not only affects individuals and families but also has a significant impact on national economies. Addressing gender-based violence and its economic consequences requires comprehensive policies, programs, and interventions that prioritize prevention, protection, and support for survivors. By investing in these efforts, societies can create a safer, more equitable, and prosperous future for all.

Global Solutions

The United Nations has taken a number of steps to address domestic and gender-based violence, recognizing that these forms of violence are widespread and have devastating effects on individuals and communities. Some of the key initiatives and actions taken including the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women; the adoption of UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993; the establishment of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women in 1996; the launch of the UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the issue of violence against women and mobilize action to address it; the adoption of the UN Spotlight Initiative in 2017 and many others.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) supports national governments, civil society organizations, women’s groups, and the private sector to address the root causes of gender-based violence, such as gender-based discrimination and unequal power relations. One of the ways UNDP supports this effort is by promoting policies and legislation that protect women and girls from violence. This includes working with governments to develop and implement laws that criminalize gender-based violence and ensure that victims have access to legal, medical, and psychological support.

International best practices show that criminalizing gender-based violence is most effective when the criminal justice system is involved in the development and implementation of laws and policies through participatory approaches and strong training programs for law enforcement and the judiciary. UNDP often works to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement agencies and judicial systems to prevent and respond to all forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence. This involves providing training and support to police officers, prosecutors, and judges on how to effectively investigate and prosecute cases. By working with national governments, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders, UNDP aims to address the root causes of gender-based violence, including gender-based discrimination and unequal power relations, and support the development of policies and legislation that protect women and girls from violence.

Uzbekistan has made progress towards addressing gender-based violence, adopting the legal definition of violence against girls and women in 2019. The law recognizes domestic violence and harassment against women and girls, establishing measures for prevention and protection, including restraining orders and shelters. To effectively respond to gender-based violence, the government has trained police officers, judges, and other officials. Additionally, the government adopted a national action plan on gender equality and women's empowerment, established a Gender Equality Commission under the Senate of Oliy Majlis to promote women's rights, and promoted women's participation in political and economic decision-making. Despite this progress, there is still work to be done to fully address gender-based violence in Uzbekistan.

While there is progress, Uzbekistan still faces challenges such as limited available resources for support services, a lack of data on the prevalence of violence against women, and societal attitudes that condone or excuse violence against women. However, the government's commitment to addressing these challenges and promoting gender equality is encouraging. It is important to continue to monitor progress and support efforts to address gender-based violence in Uzbekistan.

The Oliy Majlis is now considering criminalizing domestic violence in its legal system. This work is in line with the recommendation of the UN Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women to the Government of Uzbekistan to “amend its current legislation, including the Criminal Code, the Code of Administrative Offences and the Law on Protection of Women from Harassment and Violence, to ensure that domestic violence is specifically criminalized, can be prosecuted ex officio and is sanctioned with appropriate penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offence.”

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee’s General Recommendation 19 has confirmed that violence against women in cases of domestic violence constitutes sex-based discrimination, which is in turn prohibited by the Constitution of Uzbekistan. General Recommendation 35 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (ratified by Uzbekistan in July 1995) calls for criminalization to: “ensure that all forms of gender-based violence against women in all spheres, which amount to a violation of their physical, sexual or psychological integrity, are criminalized and introduce, without delay, or strengthen, legal sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the offence, as well as civil remedies.”

Criminalization matters

In addition to respecting international human rights treaties and agreements, there are many good reasons to criminalize gender-based violence. Criminalizing gender-based violence can act as a deterrent to potential perpetrators and provide stronger legal protections for victims. By holding perpetrators accountable for their actions, criminalization sends a message that such violence is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. It can also provide legal protections for victims, such as restraining orders and other forms of protection orders, which can help prevent further violence.

Criminalization allows to consider all features of domestic violence such as the context, systemic nature, coercive control, motives of this crime. This allows to assess the gravity of this crime and determine whether to apply restorative justice or incarceration when person using violence is deemed dangerous to the society. 

Lastly, criminalization can help to shift the focus from blaming the victim to holding the perpetrator accountable for their actions. This can empower survivors to come forward and seek help, knowing that they will be taken seriously and that their abuser will be held responsible, which would hopefully bring about two important shifts in social behaviour: understanding that violence is a crime and realization that speaking up about such crimes is the right thing to do.

Gender-based violence is a scourge against humanity that must be persecuted as a crime. The culture of impunity and normalization of violence in society requires an unambiguous response from the State.  As Uzbekistan is currently reviewing its penal provisions in this area, now is the time to take action to protect the women and children of this country. We believe Uzbekistan will do what is right.

By working with national governments, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders, UNDP aims to address the root causes of gender-based violence, including gender-based discrimination and unequal power relations, and support the development of policies and legislation that protect women and girls from violence.
Matilda Dimovska, UNDP Resident Representative in Uzbekistan