How to ensure that legislation against gender-based violence makes an impact
Violence against women and girls is one of the most extreme forms of gender inequality and a violation of human rights. Globally, 30% of women aged 15 and older have been subjected to physical or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life. This figure does not include sexual harassment. And although women and girls are overwhelmingly victims of gender-based violence (GBV), men and boys can be targets too – especially in conflict situations.
Laws against GBV and harassment are important to provide victims with legal protection and signal commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of ending all forms of violence and harm against women and girls by 2030. Legal protection remains weak for sexual violence as a form of domestic violence, where laws are lacking in more than one in three countries. Meanwhile, the share of countries with laws on domestic violence and sexual harassment increased over the last four years – to just over 75% and just over 85% respectively.
Having laws in place is not enough – they need to be effective
Having laws that comprehensively define the various forms of GBV and relationships in which it takes place on the books is important. But it is not sufficient. In many places, adequate laws may coexist with high prevalence of domestic violence or sexual harassment. This may result from poor implementation of the laws, whether due to poor enforcement, low capacity, or the lack of additional mechanisms, policies, and specific programmes to address the underlying issues. Nothing is as disappointing as a years-long campaign by civil society and citizens for legislation against GBV failing to galvanise change in society due to the lack of implementation of the law or the absence of information on the law and its impact.
Therefore, impact assessments of laws after their enactment have become a key target in the fight against GBV. In a growing number of countries, parliamentarians have taken a leading role in initiating legislation against GBV as well as in monitoring its implementation and assessing how it achieves its objectives.
Post-legislative scrutiny of legislation against gender-based violence
The systematic process by which parliament monitors whether the laws it has passed are implemented as intended and evaluates if the laws have the expected impact is called post-legislative scrutiny (PLS). When conducted properly, PLS can reveal achievements and errors in the design of legislation, gaps in implementation and enforcement, and other positive and negative impacts that hinder or contribute to combatting GBV.
- The Welsh Parliament identified gaps in the pace and consistency of implementation of the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, as well as low awareness of obligations among public authorities, a limited possibility to fulfil demand for services, and a lapse in the publication of statutory guidance.
- A review of Lebanon’s law 293/2014 that aims to protect women and family members from domestic violence revealed gaps resulting from the non-explicit criminalisation of domestic violence, its non-application to domestic workers, and its being secondary to existing customs.
- PLS of Cabo Verde’s Law Against Gender-Based Violence of 2014 found that implementing rules to enforce the law had not been enacted thus hindering the required budget allocations and funding.
- Scrutiny of Uganda’s Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Act 2010 revealed how the deeply embedded practice of FGM prevailed and became mutated following the enactment of the law.
- And in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2021, the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska conducted PLS on the Law on Protection Against Domestic Violence, confirming omissions in the application of the instruments to protect women victims of violence.
Laws are rarely perfect. As these examples reveal, the barriers related to combatting GBV can be multifaceted, systematic, and extensive. But these barriers can be overcome, if properly identified, and this is where PLS can make a difference.
Moving to amend legislation or adopt new legislation without an in-depth assessment of the impact of existing legislation, its unintended consequences or gaps won’t solve the issues, and might lead to more disappointment with the democratic process. PLS is a way to engage with citizens and civil society on how to improve the effectiveness of applicable GBV legislation.
It’s a sign of hope that parliamentarians are increasingly focusing on evaluating the impact of GBV legislation. And it is a sign of hope that PLS is increasingly recognized as an important dimension within the oversight and legislative roles of parliament and an integral part of the legislative cycle. It means that victims of GBV have a better chance of justice and recovery based on effective and applicable legislation.