Violence against women (VAW) is one of the most widespread and toxic human rights violations in the world. It takes a wide variety of forms from domestic violence to rape to female genital mutilation. Domestic violence alone costs the world 9.5 trillion dollars each year in economic loss. As eradicating VAW means dismantling the stubbornly entrenched patriarchal system which maintains the toxic masculinity, sexism, misogyny, and male pattern violence that perpetuates gender-based violence, progress in eradicating VAW is invariably difficult, painfully slow, and frequently endangers changemakers (usually women) themselves.
In 2022, as the world struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-VAW advocates and activists continue to rebuild after the pandemic leaves decades of efforts to combat VAW a crushing setback triggered by what UN Women dubbed the “shadow pandemic of violence against women”, the number of domestic violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and femicide casesstubbornly remain much higher than the already devastating pre-pandemic numbers.
However, even in the midst of all this bleakness, anti-violence against women activists and advocates, individuals, communities, and nonprofits/charities are continuing to fight for the right of women and girls to live their lives free of gender-based violence. No matter how brutal 2022 continues to be for women and girls, progress continues to be made to eradicate the violence in the long run.
In the spirit of the defiance, strength, and determination of these fierce activists and advocates worldwide, we bring you 16 pieces of positive news of significant progress and breakthroughs in the global battle against VAW in 2022. The road to ending VAW permanently may be a long and winding one, but these milestones show that we’re on the right track. We just have to remember that it takes all of us to get it done.
It’s time to stop violence against women. Together.
Introduction by Regina Yau. Written by Gabrielle Beran, Regina Yau and Susanna Lim; Researched by Annette Appaduray, Regina Yau, Susanna Lim, and Vani Bhardwaj
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Positive Tidings #1: Canada’s Supreme Court Rules that Stealthing is a Crime – Canada
In a unanimous decision in July 2022, Canada’s supreme court ruled that “stealthing” — the act of pretending to use a condom, or removing one prior to sex without the partner’s consent — can be deemed a violation of the legal grounds for consensual sex. This decision, hailed by women’s human rights campaigners as a breakthrough for future cases of women’s rights within the context of rape and sexual assault, could set a landmark legal precedent not just in Canada but across the world. Lise Gotell, a professor in the University of Alberta’s department of gender and women’s studies, said that her research on laws concerning condom use and consent showed that the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision is a global first. Gotell said: “Internationally, it’s a really significant decision. In no other place now is the law, the criminal law, as clear on this question that condom use is part of what you’re agreeing to when you agree to sex.”
Positive Tidings #2: For the First Time, Northern Ireland Police Have Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Girls – Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland an incident of domestic abuse occurs every 16 minutes, but for the first time the Police Service of Northern Ireland has an action plan to reduce violence against women and girls. Published in September 2022, the plan aims to improve trust in policing, increase support for victims and create safer spaces for women and girls. This includes improved vetting processes for officers, specific training on how to manage domestic abuse incidences and prioritising the arrest of offenders involved in violence against women and girls. The plan was welcomed by Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland but both its CEO Sarah Mason, and Northern Ireland’s Police Chief Constable Simon Byrne, expressed a need for broader societal change beyond policing to tackle violence against women and girls, “To effectively tackle complex societal issues like this we need everyone to actively champion the change that is needed.” said Mr Byrne.
Positive Tidings #3: Sex Without Explicit Consent Can Now Be Deemed a Crime – Spain
In August 2022, Spain’s legislature passed a new law determining that consent to sexual activity must be explicit, removing any doubt that silence or ‘by default’ (i.e. not explicitly saying no) could be seen as consent. Widespread anger and protests occurred in Spain after two separate 2016 incidences of sexual violence against a woman and a girl were later not ruled as rape by the Spanish courts and the perpetrators handed less severe verdicts and sentences. Spain’s new law brings the number of countries in Europe that have laws criminalising rape on the basis of no consent to 14. Previously, Spanish law, like many other countries, required violence or intimidation to occur. Known as the “only yes means yes” law, Equality Minister Irene Montero said that “From now on no woman will have to prove that violence or intimidation was used for it to be recognised for what it is.”
Positive Tidings #4: Former USA gymnastics sports doctor Larry Nassar loses last appeal in sexual assault scandal – United States of America
A final appeal by former sports doctor, Larry Nassar, was rejected in June 2022 by the Michigan Supreme Court. He has been sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting multiple gymnasts, including those he treated during the Olympics. “We decline to expend additional judicial resources and further subject the victims in this case to additional trauma where the questions at hand present nothing more than an academic exercise,” the court said in a two-page order. More than 150 victims spoke or submitted statements during an extraordinary seven-day hearing in Aquilina’s court more than four years ago. Nassar pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting gymnasts and other athletes with his hands under the guise of medical treatment for hip and leg injuries. This is a significant case which brought a rampant culture of sexual crimes within the competitive sports community to light and was extensively covered in the media.
Positive Tidings #5: India’s Supreme Court rules that Marital Rape is Rape – India
In a landmark decision by India’s Supreme Court in September 2022, marital rape is now defined as rape. The court order stated:“We would be remiss in not recognising that intimate partner violence is a reality and can take the form of rape. The misconception that strangers are exclusively or almost exclusively responsible for sex and gender-based violence is a deeply regrettable one. The ruling also stated that all women, regardless of their marital status, have the right to an abortion up until 24 weeks. Therefore, while the court stopped short of criminalising forced sex by the husband in a marriage, it has allowed abortion in such cases as marital rape is now classified as sexual assault.
Positive Tidings #6: Puerto Rico expands its coverage of sexual harassment law – Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has amended its sexual harassment law to expand coverage to interns and to require employers to adopt a protocol to investigate sexual harassment allegations. On September 28, 2022, the Governor of Puerto Rico signed into law Act 82-2022, which amends Act 17-1988, which already prohibits sexual harassment behaviours by employers and employees at the workplace, now expanding its coverage and requiring employers to adopt a protocol. Under the expanded law, punishable sexual harassment behaviours include any type of unwelcome sexual advances, making sexual favours a condition of employment or the basis for employment decisions, and subjecting an employee to a hostile work environment. This is a significant milestone for Puerto Rican legislation, protecting employees, candidates of employment and interns by law from sexual harassment.
Positive Tidings #7: Malaysian Anti-Stalking Bill passes unanimously in Parliament – Malaysia
Laws that make stalking an offense were approved on 3rd October, 2022 in the Malaysian House of Representatives (“ Dewan Rakyat”), following two rounds of debate. Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin presented her case and the amendments, and after some clarifications and explanations the bill was passed unanimously. “We need this amendment to the law and its inclusion as an offence in order to afford more protection to women and I am glad various efforts, together with suggestions from NGOs and stakeholders, allowed us to make stalking an offence under the Penal Code,” she told the Dewan Rakyat. This is a major victory for the public and Malaysian NGOs, including Women’s Aid Organization, who have been consistently pushing for legislation to protect women from stalking.
Positive Tidings #8: Constitutional Court Holds Police Accountable for Negligence in Groundbreaking Rape Case – South Africa
The Constitutional Court in South Africa held that the police could have gone the extra mile to locate Andy Kawa, who was raped for several hours on a beach in Gqeberha known as Port Elizabeth at the time. After a legal fight of nearly 12 years, Kawa scored a huge victory in April 2022 for survivors of gender-based violence when the apex court found that the police had a duty to perform their work with due diligence. The court upheld Kawa’s appeal and found that the police were negligent in their investigation regarding her case, and that they failed in their constitutional duty towards her. She says that the police did not do enough to find her that night, promptly obtain physical evidence, interview potential suspects and witnesses, nor pursue video evidence. The landmark judgment to hold the police 40% liable for Kawa’s damages was long overdue for the years Kawa spent pushing for police to investigate the crimes committed against her.
Positive Tidings #9: Australia Includes Casual and Part-time Workers in Domestic Violence Leave – Australia
Domestic violence leave allows victims to take the valuable time to seek help, support, relocate, attend to legal matters or to counseling without risking losing their jobs. As of October 2022, Australia has amended their domestic violence leave scheme to provide 10 days’ leave to all workers. Previously the domestic violence leave provisions had limitations for casual and part-time workers, meaning that many women, who are more likely to take on casual or part-time work, were less likely to be eligible. Employment Minister Tony Burke said: “women who are experiencing family and domestic violence are more likely to be employed in casual work. We cannot leave them behind.” The legislation now makes domestic violence leave available to more than 11 million Australian workers, up from 2.7 million previously.
Positive Tidings #10: Cyprus Passes Separate Offense of Femicide – Cyprus
In partial response to an alarming increase in domestic violence incidents in Cyprus since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, lawmakers have passed legislation that makes femicide a separate crime, and one punishable by life imprisonment. The Speaker of Parliament, Annita Demetriou, the first woman to hold the position, tabled the legislation that was passed by a strong majority in July 2022.
Positive Tidings #11: Iraqi Government Launches First Gender-Based Violence Strategic Plan – Iraq
The Ministry of Health in Iraq, together with the World Health Organization (WHO), launched the first Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Strategic Plan 2022-2026 on 31 January 2022. The plan will provide the strategic vision and the operational directions for better implementation and coordination of sustainable interventions related to the health system response to GBV, and to reduce its short and long health consequences. Dr Rana Mohammad Ali, GBV Officer for WHO Iraq, indicated that the strategic plan aims to integrate comprehensive and well-coordinated GBV health services into health facilities at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. “The plan also intends to increase community awareness on the prevention of GBV and strives to fight stigmatisation while strengthening the integration of GBV into the humanitarian and emergency health response,” she added. The strategic plan is designed to gradually cover all provinces of Iraq, including the Kurdistan Region-Iraq (KR-I), with a flexible and ad-hoc plan tailored to each province’s specific needs and situation.
Positive Tidings #12: White House launches Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse– United States of America, Australia, Denmark, South Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom
During the 66th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2022, the Biden-Harris administration launched the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse together with Australia, Denmark, the Republic of Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom. With an estimated 85% of women and girls globally having experienced some form of online harassment and abuse, challenges persist in the path to full and equal participation everywhere—particularly those from underrepresented and marginalized communities. In the United States, one in three women under the age of 35 report experiencing sexual harassment and stalking online; rates can be even higher in regions of the world where women and girls have lesser legal status, rights, and protections. This partnership is a positive development towards bringing together countries to better prioritize, understand and address a growing scourge of technology-facilitated gender-based violence.
Positive Tidings #13: Sexual Harassment Now a Crime in the US Military – United States of America
US President Joe Biden has established the crime of sexual harassment under US military law. In the USA, members of the armed forces are subject to a slightly different set of criminal laws – it includes many of the same crimes as civilian law and also additional ones specific to the military. However, until January 2022, sexual harassment was not included. This important change is a direct result of the campaigning of the family of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, who was murdered at a US army base by another soldier in 2020. Her family have spoken of how she was sexually harassed prior to her murder but did not report it out of fear of retaliation. In a tweet, Spc. Guillén’s sister said “My little sister shed light on the epidemic of sexual misconduct in the military. You’ll never be forgotten.” It is hoped that the change will ensure that all members of the military will be safer from violence and harassment.
Positive Tidings #14: Indigenous women celebrate court ruling finds ex-paramilitaries guilty of sexual violence in the 1980s – Guatemala
A Guatemalan court ruling in January 2022 found ex-paramilitaries guilty of raping and sexually abusing Indigenous women during adecades-long armed conflict. Five former paramilitary patrolmen were found guilty, a ruling welcomed by Indigenous women and their supporters. Judge Yassmin Barrios and Gelvi Sical ruled that 36 Indigenous Maya Achi women had been subjected to domestic slavery, sexual violence and rape during the 36-year conflict between the Guatemalan military and leftist forces. The crimes, which took place in the early 1980s, have been acknowledged by the court and five former members of the so-called “Civil Self-Defense Patrols” have been sentenced to 30 years in prison. This is a huge victory for Indigenous women in Guatemala, with the women plaintiffs having spent years demanding justice for crimes committed during the conflict. “I feel happy,” Pedrina Lopez, a 51-year-old Indigenous Maya Achi survivor and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told Al Jazeera before the sentences were passed.
Positive Tidings #15: Turkey Makes Stalking a Crime – Turkey
In a country where 419 women were killed by men in 2021, a new law hoping to reduce violent crimes against women was passed in May 2022. Crucially, it makes stalking – causing persistent uneasiness or fears for personal or family safety – a crime in Turkish law. In addition, violence against women (and medical workers) has been added to the list of Turkey’s most serious crimes and the law also increases jail time for those convicted. This new law is despite the withdrawal by President Erdogan of Turkey from the Council of Europe’s Convention on Combating Violence Against Women. However, there is criticism from women’s groups about the focus on harsher sentencing rather than better support, investigation and actual prosecution of crimes against women.
Positive Tidings #16: Indonesian Law Improves Access to Justice for Sexual Violence Victims – Indonesia
A long-awaited new law in Indonesia has created a better legal framework for addressing sexual violence. Passed in April 2022, the Sexual Violence Crimes Law expands definitions of certain sexual crimes, such as rape, to include rape within marriage. It also recognises more types of sexual violence as crimes, including forced marriage and sexual slavery. Police, prosecutors and judges must now be more victim focused, undertake specific training and there are more options for admissible evidence. Victims will also have rights to compensation and support, “this law is really important to provide legal, economic and psychological support to victims”said local women’s rights activist Tunggal Pawestri. The bill, which was drafted in 2016, faced harsh opposition from conservatives and some religious groups. “Now we have to make sure that the government will provide the instruments and facilities for this law so it can be implemented.” said Siti Mazumah of the Legal Aid Foundation of the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice.
The picture used is a Creative Commons image:
- Photo by Madison Inouye from Pexels.