Eight countries that are making historic changes to ensure no woman or girl is left behind

Violence against women and girls remains a problem of enormous magnitude everywhere in the world. The numbers are sobering — 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence, often in the hands of those they know and love.

This year has been a year of global outrage against this violence. But outrage needs to translate into action. Laws are transformative tools for curbing violence against women, whenused to punish perpetrators, provide justice to survivors and serve as a deterrent.

From the Caribbean and Central America to Jordan and Tunisia, this year saw a number of historic changes as countries abolished laws that previously discriminated, marginalized and silenced women. As we head into the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, a global campaign that runs from 25 November — 10 December, here are eight countries that made strides to protect women and girls through progressive legislation.

KYRGYZSTAN

Tunisia’s parliament, pictured above in a 2016 file photo, voted last week to pass its first national law to combat violence against women. Photo: Khaled Nasraoui

On 28 April, Kyrgyzstan adopted a new law on “ Safeguarding and Protection Against Domestic Violence”, which improves protection measures for survivors, simplifies reporting procedures and introduces rehabilitation programmes for perpetrators. According to the new law, anyone who is aware of domestic violence occurring can now report it and the police will be obliged to respond and take all necessary actions to address the violence.

This is a significant step for Kyrgyzstan, where 23 per cent of women aged 15–49 years report having experienced physical violence, but that might just be the tip of the iceberg, as only two in five women surveyed said they would report to the police or local authorities.

The historic change culminated from three years of joint advocacy by the Forum of Women Parliamentarians, the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, civil society partners and the UN Gender Thematic Group in the country.

TUNISIA

Tunisia’s parliament, pictured above in a 2016 file photo, voted last week to pass its first national law to combat violence against women. Photo: Khaled Nasraoui

Tunisia announced its first national law to combat violence against women in late July. The long-awaited legislation passed with 146 votes out of 217, and zero abstentions.

In 2010, a national survey on violence against women revealed that nearly 50 per cent of Tunisian women have experienced violence in their lifetime. Through the new law’s broad definition of violence against women, it ensures no one will be left behind.

In addition to physical violence, it recognizes other forms of violence against women and girls, including economic, sexual, political and psychological. It also removes the discriminatory provision in article 227 of the Penal Code, which previously pardoned a perpetrator of a sexual act with a minor when the perpetrator married his victim. The law also provides for new protection mechanisms that will enable survivors to access the necessary services and legal and psychological assistance.

While passing of the law marks a significant step in the right direction, translating it into practice through adequate implementation will be key to making long lasting differences to women’s lives.

JORDAN

Salma Nims, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, launched a petition to collect signatures demanding the amendment of national laws that discriminate against women. Photo: Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Similarly, until August, the law in the Kingdom of Jordan allowed a rapist to avoid persecution by marrying his victim for a minimum of five years. In a historic move, the Parliament of Jordan voted to abolish the infamous “rape law” — article 308 of the Penal Code.

For years, there have been ongoing efforts from national and international organizations, justice sector professionals, journalists and women’s rights activists to abolish Article 308 to put an end to fear, trauma and abuse that rape survivors endure when they are forced to marry their rapists.

With efforts towards abolishing similar discriminatory provisions from its laws, the reform of Jordan’s Penal Code also included the amendment of other provisions, notably Articles 98 and 99, resulting in increased sentences for perpetrators of so-called ‘honour-crimes’.

More than 200 civil society activists and representatives attended the discussion in Parliament, and circulated an online petition which gathered 5,000 signatures in one day from the public, in support of this legislative reform.

LEBANON

A civil society activist outside of the parliament building in Beirut celebrates the abolishment of article 522 from the Lebanese Penal Code on 17 August 2017. Photo: ABAAD

On the heels of Jordan and Tunisia scrapping discriminatory rape laws, the Lebanese Parliament agreed in August to abolish article 522 of the Penal Code, the infamous “rape marriage law”, which exempted a rapist from punishment if he married his victim.

This major legal step is a direct outcome of several national initiatives, including a successful nation-wide advocacy campaign led by ABAAD Institution for Gender Equality, in partnership with UN Women Lebanon.

To challenge prevalent mindsets and traditions, while making women aware that perpetrators escaping punishment is no longer an option, ABAAD also actively engaged men and boys as advocates and agents of change for gender equity and women’s rights.

While similar law changes have spread across Tunisia and Jordan, the rape clause remains on the books in in Iraq, Kuwait and Palestine. Read more>.

LIBERIA

Women peacefully protest at the Liberian Legislature, advocating for the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill. Photo: UN Women/Winston Daryoue

In the past few years, Liberia has made some strides in passing legislations to protect women and girls, including through the most recent domestic violence law that passed August 2017.

However, even as the country tackles the rising tide of sexual violence, a regressive amendment proposed by the Senate to Liberia’s Rape Law of 2005, could change statutory rape or sexual intercourse with minors a bailable offence.

In response, various women’s organizations alongside the Liberia Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection and UN partners have called on the House of Representatives to reject the amendment.

A joint programme led by UN Women is building local partnerships with community leaders in identifying and preventing sexual and gender-based violence. Since May 2017, more than 250 traditional and religious leaders have been trained on how to better respond to cases in their communities. Simultaneously, the programme has also improved the capacity of 173 police officers, prosecutors and health and social workers to respond to gender-based violence cases.

EL SALVADOR, GUATEMALA AND HONDURAS

The Legislative Assembly of El Salvador approving a new law to ban child marriage. Photo: UN Women

Prior to 2012, 29 per cent of Latin American girls were married under the age of 18. This year, three Central American countries took historic steps to end child marriage.

On July 12, the Honduran Congress modified the National Family Code, revoking all legal exceptions that until then, allowed the marriage of minors. A month later, neighbouring Guatemala and El Salvador took similarly decisive steps.

According to figures from 2014, in El Salvador 29.1 per cent of women of women between 20 and 49 years of age were married before reaching 18.

Last year in June, Trinidad and Tobago had already amended the Marriage Act, the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, the Hindu Marriage Act, the Orisa Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act, with an aim at ending the practice of child and early marriage.

To continue raising awareness and trigger action to end the global scourge of violence against women and girls, the UN and organizations around the world observes International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which follow (ending on 10 December, Human Rights Day) present an opportunity to mobilize and raise awareness about the issue. Find out more about how people are taking action to leave no one behind in the fight to end violence against women here.