The forms of violence to which women are subjected and the ways in which they experience this violence are often shaped by the intersection of gender with other factors such as race, ethnicity, class, age, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, legal status, religion and culture. Therefore diverse strategies that take these intersecting factors into account are required in order to eradicate violence against all women.United Nations Secretary General, 2006
Violence against Women and Human Rights: Driving Notions
Violence against Women (VAW) affects approximately one-third of women globally. This pervasive violence has been widely examined, discussed and theorised in different disciplines and from different perspectives over the past 30 years, largely the result of the efforts of the women's movement. VAW is considered in human rights as a form of discrimination, contrary to the right of men and women to the equal enjoyment of civil, political, economic and social rights. In the process of recognition of VAW as a violation of human rights of women, one feminist construction served as inspiration for the documents adopted and helped capturing the structural nature of violence affecting women: the concept of gender.
‘Gender’, however, is, still today, a debated notion. The view of gender that has been incorporated into human rights documents on VAWderives from specific theories and implies specific understandings. This has resulted in a framework with certain characteristics. The brief discussion below will introduce the main aspects of the legal translation of gender and the potential shortcomings that intersectionality intends to tackle.
The Incorporation of Gender in Human Rights Norms
Gender has been incorporated into human rights in connection to three aspects, the social construction of gender roles, the man/woman binary and the patriarchal construction of society. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Cee) has clarified that:
The term ‘sex’ here refers to biological differences between men and women. The term ‘gender’ refers to socially constructed identities, attributes and roles for women and men and society's social and cultural meaning for these biological differences resulting in hierarchical relationships between women and men and in the distribution of power and rights favouring men and disadvantaging women. This social positioning of women and men is affected by political, economic, cultural, social, religious, ideological and environmental factors and can be changed by culture, society and community.