Outlawing violence against women: A first step

Legislation against domestic violence has been enacted in 44 countries around the world; 17 have made marital rape a criminal offence; 27 have passed sexual harassment laws; and just 12 countries have laws against FGM. 

The few laws that do exist vary significantly in strength and enforceability from one legal system to another. In countries that have not enacted specific laws, it may be possible to prosecute offenders under more general criminal statutes. 

Some governments have introduced accessible and well-integrated legal provisions, such as Ecuador’s 1995 law against domestic violence—a clear-cut prohibition of physical and mental assaults. Current and former cohabitants and parties in non-marital intimate relationships are included in the legislation, and psychological violence is explicitly defined. 

Other laws are more vague: New Zealand has enacted family violence legislation without specific reference to women or girls; in Malawi, a constitutional provision makes a general commitment to implementing policy on domestic violence. 

In recent years, sexual harassment has been publicly acknowledged as harmful to women, and countries are taking the first steps by adopting legislation prohibiting it. In the last two years, legislation that directly addresses sexual harassment has been passed in Belgium, Belize, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Ireland, Paraguay, the Philippines and Switzerland. Similar legislation has been proposed in Chile, Italy, Jamaica and South Africa. 

Laws that criminalize gender-based violence are positive steps but but they offer not guarantees. Worldwide, even where laws are in place, prosecution of perpetrators is rare, and successful prosecutions uncommon.

Countries that have enacted legislation against:
Marital rape Sexual harassment Female genital mutilation
Argentina Australia Argentina Australia
Australia Austria Australia Burkina Faso
Bahamas Barbados Austria Canada
Bangladesh Canada Bahamas Egypt**
Barbados Denmark Belgium France***
Belize France Belize Ghana
Bolivia Germany Canada New Zealand
Brazil Ireland Costa Rica Norway
Canada New Zealand Finland Sudan****
Chile Norway France Sweden
China Poland Germany United Kingdom
Colombia South Africa Guinea United States
Costa Rica Spain Ireland
Cyprus Sweden Israel
Czech Republic Trinidad/Tobago Lesotho
Denmark United Kingdom Malawi
Ecuador United States* Namibia
El Salvador Netherlands
Finland New Zealand
France Panama
Guatemala Paraguay
Guyana Philippines
Honduras Spain
Ireland Sweden
Israel Switzerland
Italy United Kingdom
Jamaica United States
New Zealand
St. Lucia
St. Vincent/  
    *      Legislation enacted by state law.  
    **     No criminal law, but a ministerial decree forbids the practice.  
    ***    By court decision, not specific legislation.  
    ****   1946 law only prohibits infibulation.
South Africa
Tunisia    Compiled from various sources, January-May 1997, including R. Boland  
   (editor, Annual Review of Population Law, Harvard University); N. Toubia  
   (Director of Research, Action & Information Network for Bodily Integrity of  
   Women); J. Aeberhard-Hodges (International Labour Organization); and  
   State Responses to Domestic Violence, Women, Law & Development  
   International, Washington, DC, 1996.
United Kingdom
United States*
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