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 that 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 2023, as the world continues to deal with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-VAW advocates and activists continue to rebuild after the pandemic dealt 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 cases stubbornly remains 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 2023 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 2023. 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 Sharmila Ganapathy; Researched by Regina Yau with additional research by Sharmila Ganapathy.
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Positive Tidings #1: Children of rape now recognised in Victims’ Code in England and Wales – England and Wales
In late January 2023, the governments of England and Wales announced that they would recognise individuals conceived through rape as victims under the statutory Victims’ Code. This change in law means that individuals born as a result of rape can make official complaints to the police and “receive information and access support in the same way as any other victim of crime,” wrote The Guardian in an article. The key campaigner for this change was a woman who only wants to be known as Daisy. She managed to track down her birth father, who raped her birth mother when the latter was 13, and pushed for him to get convicted of the crime. He was finally convicted of the rape in August 2021.
Positive Tidings #2: Argentina court jails two in landmark femicide retrial – Argentina
A landmark femicide retrial in Argentina in March 2023 saw two men finally convicted for the 2016 rape and murder of 16-year-old Lucia Perez. This was after rape and femicide charges were initially dismissed in November 2018. The two men had been convicted for drug dealing but judges had absolved them of the other two charges, as the judges could not establish whether there had been consent. “Perez’s murder in Mar del Plata ignited widespread anger in Argentina, becoming a symbol of the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) movement to demand action on femicide. The movement began in Argentina in 2015 and has spread through Latin America, where at least 4,473 women were murdered in 2021, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean,” Reuters reported in a news article about the landmark conviction.
Positive Tidings #3: Quebec implements measures to fight sexual harassment in the workplace – Canada
In September this year, Quebec’s provincial government implemented measures to combat sexual harassment in the workplace via its workplace equity and safety board Commission des normes de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST). This is a significant and comprehensive step by the Quebec provincial government, and a possible precedent for other Canadian provinces. According to the Montreal Gazette, CNESST “will refine its actions and training regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, including continuing training, improvement of the complaints processing process and collaboration with the organisation Juripop”. The new measures follow a report last May with 82 recommendations. CNESST said that 90% of those have already been implemented or will be implemented this year. The recommendations involve the hiring of specialised advisers, training for all stakeholders and improving the claims processing process, among others.
Positive Tidings #4: Japan redefines rape and raises age of consent in landmark move – Japan
In a groundbreaking move to redefine rape and consent, Japan has updated its laws to enforce consent and battle rape culture. The legal age of consent has been raised from 13 years to 16 years. In addition, the statute of limitations or legal window for reporting rape has been extended to 15 years. “The new laws were passed by the upper house of the Diet – Japan’s parliament – on Friday. They explicitly outline eight scenarios where it is difficult for a victim to “form, express, or fulfil an intention not to consent” to sexual intercourse. These include situations where the victim is intoxicated with alcohol or drugs; or subject to violence or threats; or is “frightened or astonished”, reported a BBC news article, which also highlighted Japan’s Flower Demonstration campaign.
Positive Tidings #5: Taiwan’s Cabinet steps up protection for domestic violence victims – Taiwan
Taiwan’s Cabinet approved an amendment Bill this September to expand protection for victims of domestic violence, including amendments to restraining and detention orders. According to Focus Taiwan, the proposed amendments will permit individuals to seek a restraining order against a family member who disseminates sexual images of them online. This also applies to a person with whom the victim has or had an intimate relationship, even though they may not have married or lived together, the news website said. The Bill also has “new provisions stipulating that online platform service providers are obliged to limit access to or remove sexual images of a domestic violence victim disseminated online without their permission,” Focus Taiwan wrote.
Positive Tidings #6: Croatia recognises femicide as a crime in its criminal code – Croatia
Croatia has introduced tougher measures to fight violence against women, including recognising the crime of femicide in its criminal code and imposing longer prison terms for rape — measures that are still rare across Europe. One key change is that the country is making the crime of femicide part of its criminal code as a standalone offence punishable with a prison sentence that starts from 10 years. Prison sentences for rapists will be extended from 1 to 5 years to 3 to 8 years. In mid-September, Euro News cited Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic saying that the amendments are “the most extensive and perhaps the most significant changes so far” to address violence against women and children. “The proposed measures are a confirmation of what we keep repeating – the political will to fight violence against women exists. It is unquestionable, constant, ethical, and it is our value system,” Plenkovic added. The amendments are expected to come into effect by January 2024.
Positive Tidings #7: Chile’s new law supports children of femicide victims – Chile
In April this year, the Chilean government implemented one of the most comprehensive laws in Latin America to support relatives of femicide victims. The focus of the new law is to provide for children of murdered women, where the affected child will be given a monthly state allowance of 160,000 Chilean pesos ($200) until the age of 18. The law also grants employment protection to survivors of attempted femicides. Also, family members will be offered priority access to social services, including psychological counseling and support, writes the BBC: “Chile’s Minister of Women and Gender Equity, Antonia Orellana, says that the law was brought in to lend support to children whose mothers have been killed by their partners, leaving the child with no mother and a violent father behind bars. Minister Orellana says the aim is to go further than just providing financial aid — and to recognise violence as a structural problem.”
Positive Tidings #8: Malaysia criminalises stalking in a move to combat gender-based violence – Malaysia
In March this year, Malaysia’s Dewan Rakyat (the lower house of the country’s bicameral Parliament), amended the Penal Code to make stalking (both physically and online) a crime punishable by law. “A new Section 507A has been included under the Penal Code (Act 574) to make stalking an offence and any individual found guilty faces a maximum jail sentence of up to three years, a fine, or both,” reported Malaysian newspaper The Star. The Star also cited statistics from the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), where one-third of Malaysians have admitted to experiencing stalking and 39% of women have experienced stalking in the past. Some of the cases have led to the death of the victim, the news report said.
Positive Tidings #9: Pakistan’s southern Sindh province establishes femicide observatory – Pakistan
In October, Pakistan’s southern Sindh province announced it will establish a femicide observatory to guide policymakers in their efforts to combat violence against women. “Femicide observatories are organisations or institutions dedicated to monitoring, researching and analysing intentional killings of women or girls due to their gender. These observatories often collect data, publish reports and provide insights into the patterns, causes, and consequences of such cases to raise awareness about the issue and advocate for policy changes to prevent these killings,” reported Arab News in an article about the observatory. Arab News also wrote: “A report from Human Rights Watch released this year indicates that violence against women and girls — including rape, murder, acid attacks, domestic violence and forced as well as child marriages — also remained widespread in Pakistan in 2022. Rights advocates estimate that so-called ‘honor killings’ claim the lives of approximately 1,000 women in the country each year.”
Positive Tidings #10: India’s Tamil Nadu high court upholds conviction for 30-year old rape cases – India
To grant justice to impacted tribal communities in the state, the Tamil Nadu state high court in September upheld the convictions of hundreds of government officials for rapes 30 years ago. According to the BBC, these officials attacked the tribals in June 1992. “All the 269 accused denied the allegations against them, but in 2011, a trial court convicted them, pronouncing them guilty under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act. Seventeen of the men were also found guilty of rape… As 54 of the accused died during the [course of the] trial, the remaining 215 men were sentenced to prison terms between one and 10 years. The convicts appealed in Madras High Court in the southern city of Chennai… A lawyer for the survivors told the BBC that the convicts have all been out on bail. ‘Barring the 17 men who were convicted of rape, most others did not spend any time in prison,’ she said,” the BBC reported.
Positive Tidings #11: Bahrain to abolish controversial rape law – Bahrain
In June, Bahrain’s Upper House Parliament voted to abolish Article 353 of the country’s penal code, which is a law exempting rapists or sexual offenders from punishment if they marry the victim. It is a law that women’s right activists have been fighting against for decades. A news report by The Siasat Daily said that Member of the Shoura Council Nancy Khedouri was the main member in the session who handled the Bill. The Siasat Daily reported that Khedouri had told The National that the abolition of this article was imperative because it did not address the issue of rape and provided inadequate protection for rape victims. She said the decision was vital as part of the Kingdom’s latest efforts at legislative reforms. According to the news report, other countries that have abolished similar laws in recent years are Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia.
Positive Tidings #12: Uzbekistan criminalises domestic violence – Uzbekistan
April 2023 saw Uzbekistan proposing legislation that criminalises domestic violence, where amendments to the country’s Criminal and Administrative Codes have been proposed and will come into effect after a sign-off from the country’s president. “The amendments establish liability for the harassment and stalking of women, make early conditional release for sexual offenders impossible, and exclude ignorance of the age of sex crime victims as a way to avoid harsher criminal punishments,” Amnesty International said. In a statement, it quoted Heather McGill, its Central Asia researcher, saying: “Women rights activists and human rights defenders in Uzbekistan have been campaigning for years for better protection from domestic violence. Today, Uzbekistan is becoming the fifth country in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to criminalise domestic violence as a separate criminal offence under the law, after Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine.”
Positive Tidings #13: Personal injury criminal cases decrease significantly since China’s Anti-domestic Violence Law implementation – China
In the seven years since the implementation of the Anti-domestic Violence Law, data shows that the proportion of women who have experienced physical and psychological violence from their spouses stood at 8.6% in 2021; a decrease of 5.2 percentage points compared to 2010. This was reported by Chinese news website Global Times, which noted also that the law, which was passed in December 2015, marked a new stage in China’s legal promotion of anti-domestic violence work. According to the Global Times report: “Over the past seven years, the implementation of the Anti-domestic Violence Law in China has achieved significant results, and the work of combating domestic violence has made new progress. The public’s awareness of domestic violence has gradually increased, the self-protection awareness of domestic violence victims has been enhanced, and judicial authorities have intervened and disposed of domestic violence more timely, resulting in a continuous decrease in the number of personal injury criminal cases related to domestic violence.”
Positive Tidings #14: The Netherlands amends law to recognise that sex without consent is rape – The Netherlands
In a move to amend its rape laws, The Netherlands in July this year announced that it would expand a key law to recognise that sex without consent is rape. Amnesty International released a statement following the announcement, where Dagmar Oudshoorn, Director of Amnesty International Netherlands, said: “By amending our outdated law and recognising that sex without consent is rape, the Netherlands has taken an important step towards combatting widespread sexual violence and improving access to justice for survivors. This Bill removes the requirement that rape must involve physical force, threat or coercion. It also makes the Netherlands the seventeenth country out of 31 European states analysed by Amnesty International to recognise that sex without consent is rape.”
Positive Tidings #15: Queensland moves to criminalise “stealthing” and amend definition of consent – Australia
Australian news website 9 News reports that law reforms in Queensland have been proposed where men who “stealth” and remove condoms during sex without the other person’s knowledge or consent will be charged with rape. The reforms include expanding the list of circumstances where there is no consent. 9 News noted that New South Wales, ACT and Tasmania “all already have affirmative consent laws, which put the responsibility on each individual participating in a sexual act to take steps to say or do something to check the other person is consenting.” Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath told 9 News that: “Failing to use, or interfering with a condom, strikes at the heart of a person’s right to bodily autonomy and their right to choose whether and how to participate in a sexual activity. It is rape and we are changing our laws to reflect this.”
Positive Tidings #16: France launches major anti-incest campaign, first in 20 years – France
The third quarter of 2023 saw France kicking off a nationwide anti-incest campaign, in a move to combat sexual violence against children. News website Euro News quoted French Secretary of State for Children Charlotte Caubel who noted that the campaign states the figures – a child is sexually assaulted every three minutes – and highlights the trauma to children: “This is the first time a government has used the word ‘incest’ in a campaign, the first time it has talked about sexual violence within the family”, she said. Euro News also reported: “Among the initiatives to improve the situation are paediatric ‘reception and listening units’, which will bring together doctors, psychologists and trained investigators to decide on how children who have suffered abuse can be treated and protected.”
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