Developing Effective Legal Reform to Prevent Violence against Women

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Developing Effective Legal Reform to Prevent Violence against Women

Thank you to all the Conversation Leaders for their time and commitment to taking part in this important conversation. Please take a moment to learn about the conversation leaders by clicking on their profile photos.

Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • What are the processes necessary to begin legal reform efforts?
    • Who are the key players?
  • What are the effective processes and methods to collect data on VAW?
    • How important is this to the legal reform process?
  • What is the role of civil society in the formulation of laws to prevent VAW?
  • What must be considered when transferring knowledge, expertise, and strategy across regions?
  • Share stories of success around legal reform efforts.
    • Share relevant tactics, tools, resources in accomplishing this effort
What are the processes necessary to begin legal reform efforts?

The first step would be to identify an area of law that needs to be updated, improved or developed. Reasons could include:

Community/ civil society concern about a particular issue that needs to be addressed through the process of law reform

Recent events or legal cases that have highlighted a deficiency with the law + An evidence base on deficiencies 

Scientific or technological developments have made it necessary to update the law or create new laws

This kind of process is usually carried out by an independent body as such a law commission.

Next would be consultations with stakeholders. These key players could include:

  • Government ministries/departments
  • The Judiciary 
  • Civil Society Organizations
  • Special interest groups
  • Academics
  • Media
  • Other members of the community
Consultations should be documented as issue/policy papers and a call for written submissions by relevant stakeholders which will be consolidated into a final report. 
How important is a communications campaign?

Any examples for a strong communications campaign reinforcing advocacy for a particular legal reform? 

Global Campaign for Violence Prevention

This link provides information about global campaigns and how it can intersect with legal reforms.  Educating the general public on specific legal reforms is necessary to gather strong support from society and help move forward legal reform on violence against women issues.

Examples: Center for reproductive rights in US "Draw the line"

This campaign about reproductive rights "Draw the line" is an example for strong communications campaign. They invited famous actors and actresses to join, also a clean video edition, and a really clear message about why they want. 



public education campaign

A campaign coming out of India is the " Bell Bajao" Campaign. Ring a Bell!  The police cannot be everywhere and at the end of the day we want everyone to sand up to abuse, the community must show its power against perpertrators. The videos show a neighbour or a groups of young boys playing cricket or a taxi driver taking action when they hear a woman's cries as her husband abuses her. Here is the case study link

From the website:

Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao! launched in India in 2008, is a cultural and media campaign that calls on men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence. The campaign seeks to reduce domestic violence and to highlight the role that men and boys can play in reducing violence. 

"Bell Bajao’s award-winning series of PSAs has been viewed by over 130 million people. The announcements, inspired by true stories, showed men and boys stepping up and ringing the bell to interrupt overheard domestic violence. In 2010, Breakthrough’s video vans traveled 14,000 miles through cities and villages screening these PSAs and involving communities through games, street theatre and other cultural tools resulting in a sustainable, on-ground process of transforming hearts and minds.

Bell Bajao’s tools and messages have been adapted by individuals and organisations around the world, including Canada, China, Pakistan and Vietnam. The campaign has won Breakthrough 23 awards including the Silver Lion at the 2010 Advertising Festival held at Cannes."



Identifying specific Communication need of specific stakeholders

One very strong communications campaign reinforcing advocacy for a particular legal reform is  matching the gap or need for information on the issue for legal reform of  specific stakeholder with designing relevant responses. This is as a consequent of the reality that different stakeholders in a legal reform process have different levels of interest in the reform process and would expect that their interest is carried along at every point of the reform.

As a result in addittion to the general updates and infromation, reaching out on specific needs is a good strategy. For example for a legal reform on VAW, the women are more interested in the law coming into place but the men are worried that their 'rights' are being taken away. Therefore the women would need more information on how the law would be very protective of their rights the men need information on how behaving normal without perpetrating violence does not make them less human.

This is a key lesson now for us in Nigeria following the throwing out of the draft bill on Gender Equality at the country's Lower Chamber. The Gender advocates are back in the drawing board to address the gaps and re present the bills.

Best regards,



Re: campaigns and advocacy for legal reform

I am intrigued by the work The Everywoman Everywhere Coalition is doing in an effort to demand a global binding treaty on violence against women.  One of their members, Dr. Charlie Clements, is a human rights activist who played a crucial role in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).  In light of that success, the Everywoman Everywhere Coalition has modeled their later policy stages strategy based off of that landmine campaign, which led to the creation of the United Nations Convention to Ban Landmines, according to their submission to the former UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women in 2015 (A/HRC/29/27/Add.4 at 22 and 25).  

The ICBL campaign toolkit could prove to be very helpful to organizations campaigning on a national/state level, and is likely informing the work of campaigning internationally.  ICBL has a lot of multimedia examples as well as a full youtube page devoted to their content, that we could mimic. I'm embedding their main Mine Ban Treaty video, too.  Lastly, here is the ICBL campaign chronology of how it developed and where it stands now.

It is not clear to me how active the Everywoman Everywhere Coalition is right now, but if anyone has any thoughts or can provide an update on their work, it may prove helpful to this discussion.  I assume they're thrilled that the current Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences has opened up a global call for submissions from stakeholders to weigh in on the need for an international binding treaty on violence against women!  The submissions are due Oct. 1, so I encourage anyone with an opinion on the matter to get drafting!  The organization I work for, Global Rights for Women, is submitting something later this week.  

The Ugly Truth Campaign

ARROW -- While this campaign focused mainly on shifting public perceptions of the harms of forced prostitution and its links to human trafficking, The Ugly Truth Campaign also played a significant part in pushing legislators in Illinois to finally end felony charges for prostitution arrests (and thereby continuing the march to end criminal consequences for survivors of the sex trade and prostituted people). The End Demand Illinois coalition group found that by keeping the matter in the public eye, more people were willing to engage with legislators on this issue and drive them to back significant legislation.

You can see more info here:


Developing Effective Legal Reform to Prevent Violence against Wo

I think it is key to walk through the life and experiences of a survivor.  Documenation is therefore imporatnt and service providers must be given the resources to document the case realities of survivors. Where are the cracks in implemenation? Do look at this documentation, as soon as the the Domestic Violence Act was implemented in Malaysia in 1996, we began documenting case studies of how women were accessing this law that took 9 years to pass.

When you review the documentation of a woman who has experienced violence, her attempt to make a police report, her attempts to get protection and/or shelter for herself and her children, the police investigaton, her support she gets from agencies, her experience in court etc. We shoud then ask how does a law or policy assist this woman? For instance there is a provison in the Domestic Violence Act in Malaysia for protection orders however it sometimes takes 48 hours and other times 1 week to 3 weeks. We have to provide in the law or the policies complementing the law, specific procedures/instructions for agencies to respond effectively. This will be considreed as legal reform as well. 



Legal reforms - new platforms

International commitments, such as conventions and treaties, and human rights frameworks can provide an opportunity for civil society organizations to hold their governemnts accountable to enacting and enforcing laws at the national level.

Working with partners to ensure they have the tools to advocate and lobby their governments for change is an important first step.  The newly adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) provide the newest platform for promoting law reform to ensure countires are accounable to the goals, targets and indicators within the SDGs.  The SDGs include goals to eliminate violence agasint women and girls 

Stereotyping and context

Strong laws are key to a) sending a signal that women's rights are human rights and are values of the society and b) giving women tools to access their rights and justice in any breach.  A comprehensive and accessible legal framework therefore is key.  However, laws are developed and implemented in a context of sex inequality.  Equality Now leverages the law to protect and promote the rights of women and girls, works in partnership with others and uses other tools such as the media to draw attention to an issue and to hold governments accountable.  In your experience, what have been the most successful approaches to encouraging attitudinal change and more generally to hold governments and duty bearers to account? 

Survivors and front-line advocates as leaders in legal reform

Survivors and front-line advocates who are directly serving victims and have contact with them on a regular basis are the most important leaders in efforts to change laws, create new laws or implement recently enacted laws.  This point can be easily overlooked especially in communities where direct service organizations are new, underfunded and/or overwhelmed with serving victims.  It is so important to have their leadership or laws will likely not serve their intended purpose of putting the victims' safety and needs first - in addition to prioritizing the accountability of abusers.  

While there may be many government agencies critical to participation in any kind of legal reform, the input and leadership of autonomous women's organizations that serve victims is essential.



Survivor voices

I agree,  survivors voices are extremely important in ensuring that law reforms address reality.  All to often, donors do not fund those working in the communities with the women and girls who are most affected by or at risk of violence.  We are currently working with partners in the community on efforts to eliminate female gential mutilation.  While effective laws can accelerate social change and be be tools for prevention, community leaders are the ones who can lead the discssussions those who carry on such practices and can shift harmful social norms to those that protect and prioritize girls.  We need to support a comprehensive approach to law reform

We have also found the youth movement to be extemely powerful in effecting change in their communities.  They need support and should not be underestimated. 

Survivor Voices

Agreed that the voices of survivors are important to give us a reality check.  I am posting again moving video of Survivors who speak up about the lack of protection in Malaysia. We used it to lobby the authorities who are in charge of protection.





Resources on the role of civil society

Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a crucial role in the process of legal reform, whether it is with regard to building an evidence-base on the need for legal reform, analyzing and critiquing existing laws and policies or advocating and campaigning for legal reform. I'm sharing here resources from ARROW and partners that exemplify these.

Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting their Reproductive Lives–East and Southeast Asia

This report is intended to give advocates and policymakers a more complete view of the laws and policies governing women’s lives to better enable legal and policy reform, to speed the implementation of laws that will improve women’s health and lives, and to assign accountability when governments fail to implement the laws designed to protect women.

Only Until the Rice is Cooked? The Domestic Violence Act, Familial Ideology, and Cultural Narratives in Sri Lanka

In August 2005, the Sri Lankan Parliament unanimously passed the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act No 34 (PDVA), marking the culmination of a legal advocacy process initiated by a coalition of women’s NGOs in 1999. The unanimous vote, however masked deep hostility and anxieties expressed by a number of Members of Parliament (MPs), about the need for such an Act, its ‘western’, NGO origins antithetical to Sri Lankan culture and its negative impact on the family. The Act, as eventually passed, fell short of the expectations of women’s organisations, particularly as it failed to recognize gender as a structure of power that distinguishes women’s and girls’ experience of domestic violence, from that of men and boys. It is nevertheless a significant departure from the status quo pertaining to familial violence, which, as this paper demonstrates, has opened up ‘a discursive space of struggle’ over the meaning of such violence as well as new possibilities of resistance against such violence.

Promoting Zero Tolerance for Spousal Violence: A Community-based Intervention in Rural Tamil Nadu, India

RUWSEC’s “Violence against Women-Prevention and Support” Programme. This article describes one component of this comprehensive programme, namely the creation of pressure groups within the community to champion the prevention of gender-based violence in general and spousal violence in particular.

Stories of success: Law against VAW in Honduras
Hello! Great to share experiences and tools with you all. It's interesting that around the world we are using similar tools to get legal reforms.
I want to talk about the process of construction of the Integral Law Against All Forms of Discrimination of Women in Honduras. 
First of all, as Arrow said is important to determinate the empty space in legislations causing discrimination against women, and as feminists organizations we give importance to the process of construction of the text of the law. Is important the effort of involving grassroots organizations and women and ask -through a participatory approach- what they would like to see in the law, and if they want a new one or a reform. The discussion is important because people start to feel the law as their own product.
The discussions we made, took place in the 2 biggest cities in the country, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa (north and center) and women came from around the country to have this discussion. This was important because of the dates and places, to ensure more participation, but also as a political strategy to de-construct the imaginary that all the important stuff are made in the capital. 
After the first discussion, a couple of feminist lawyers drafted the general guidelines for a new law against women's discrimination, this resource was the first general proposal for the next discussion in the feminist movement. The guidelines contain all the topics that women spoke about and a proposal of the perspective that we could take in the law. 
At this point, we created a national platform integrated by many women organizations to work for a strategy of political incidence. The 2015 was the year of collective construction of the guidelines, 2016 is the year of the presentation of the law draft, and now we are in a process of socialization with all the people that participated in the firsts discussions. This has given to us a lot of feedback, we collect it by giving to persons the responsibility to record the discussions and then making a summary. In this process you find -par example- beautiful things like an indigenous women saying "I participated in the first discussion and can't believe that my opinion is here in this law, and will defend this law because is mine." And this is what we wanted to built through the process. 
Now, the national platform is ready to put this law in the congress in 2017 with a political incidence strategy and with the women's support across the country. 
The topics of the political incidence strategy are basically: communications, mobilization, education and lobbying. 
Hope this experience can help you built your process, as you see is like a 3-4 years process but it worth for the empowerment of women, for the strengthening of the movement and for the advance of legal reforms in the country. 


These are all very important

These are all very important suggestions.  Regarding being survivor-based and -focused, stories from survivors are key as well to motivate people to change and to illustrate some of the many problems faced.  Of course, it's not always easy to ask survivors to share their stories and their wishes must be respected.  One challenge is what to do in a situation of lack of community/family support.  There are a lot of instances where a woman or girl doesn't  want to bring a case because of the enormous pressure she's under and because she fears she's unlikely to get justice.  Without her involvement though the perpetrator is not held to account and will know he just has to eg spend a little money to get rid of any idea of a case.  Sometimes we look at class action suits as a way of sheltering any individual from direct pressure, but this isn't always appropriate.  What other techniques do you use to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes or to encourage a strong message that violence against women is unacceptable and will be punished?

Survivor voices in campaigns for legal reforms (Abortion)

Importance of survivors voices in the campaigns for a legal reform.

In Honduras, abortion is totally prohibited even to save womens life. The criminal law penalizes from 4 to 6 years of prison women and doctors who practiced this medical procedures, so in may we started a national campaign to decriminalize abortion for 3 causes in the criminal law, this causes are: when the pregnancy is because of a rape, also when the women´s life is in risk and when the product has no compatibility with life outside of the uterus.

The strategy of political incidence include lobbying, education, movilization and of course... the comunications campaign, and here the survivors voices are important, but firts let me point that is not the same speaking about abortion rights that speaking about femicide or domestic violence against women. Most of the legislators don´t recognize abortion as a human right for women, and in a conservative country speak against abortion is right for politicians, so when you have a campaign to legalize abortion you have a lot of scandal in media and everyone can tell you why is wrong to legalize it, but, if you are an empowered survivor of a clandestine abortion or you were raped and now you want to share your story so you can help others to speak, or if you losed someone because of a high risk pregnancy... then nobody wants to attack survivors in media.

And of course, there is ethical issues in this things and you have to think about it. So is great to hear the voices of empowered survivors explaining why they want a legal reform and based on scientific evidence and statistics about the situation.

Attached you will find (in spanish) a video of Oscar, he losed his wife in a high risk pregnancy. In the hospital the doctors denied the practice of abortion because of the criminal law restrictions, and she died. When we published this video, legislators wanted to hear our proposal.

Building effective coalitions to bring successful legal reform

I'd like to share this recent success in Germany that highlights the importance of building effective civil society coalitions in order to advance legal reforms. 

This article, NO means NO – Germany takes big legal step against Violence against women, shares a great example of how "Women rights’ organisations and activists had been campaigning for years for such a paradigm swift in the criminal law regarding sexual violence. Lately they have joined forces in a broad coalition named “No means no”. Women’s rights organisations consider the new law a 'historical step' because the burden of the proof in case of sexual violence will no longer depend on the active resistance of the victim but solely on the behaviour of the perpetrator."

This legal reform was passed by unanimous vote of the German Bundestag. The success is attributed to the coalitions efforts. The coalition, Deutscher Frauenrat (National Council of German Women's Organizations), is an umbrella organization of more than 50 nation-wide women's associations and organizations. Congratulations to this coalition!

This is a tremendous advancement in the legal reforms to stop against violence against women. I hope this will inspire others in their efforts to continue to advance reforms in their own countries.

I'm sure there are other amazing examples of success - I hope to hear from others regarding their stories!