Women's Rights


Women and girls currently suffer both violence and discrimination across every country in the world. We’re here to help change that.

Global estimates by the World Health Organisation indicate that 1 in 3 (35%) or approximately 1.2 billion women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. And 2 in 3 victims of intimate partner and family related homicide are women. Yet 18 Commonwealth countries still do not criminalise marital rape, 6 have no law against domestic violence, more than 20 have no specific legislation against sexual harassment and an estimated 8.8 million girls living in Commonwealth countries are married as children every year.

The Equality & Justice Alliance is working to create systemic and structural change to end the status quo in which women and girls do not have equal protection of the law and supporting Commonwealth Governments to write better laws to end discrimination and violence against women and girls.

International Standards and Case Law

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status”.

The 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights establishes a universal standard for equality and non-discrimination, with specific reference to sex. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also contain a gender-specific obligation to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights.


But it is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979 that has been heralded as the international bill of rights for women. CEDAW requires States to take "all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men" (Article 3). The UN CEDAW Committee plays a critical role interpreting the obligations of States under the Convention through general recommendations, country reports, and investigating complaints and violations.

Seminal developments in case law on violence against women over the last 20 years has established that rape constitutes a form of torture, domestic violence constitutes gender-based discrimination and States have obligations of due diligence to combat violence against women and girls. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines sexual violence as a war crime and a crime against humanity.

Regional Standards

Each of the regional human rights treaties – the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights; the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – contain general non-discrimination provisions. However, the first regional treaty to directly address the issue of violence against women was the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women 1994 (Convention of Belém do Pará). In Africa, the African Union adopted the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) in 2003 specifically aimed at eliminating discrimination against women. The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) was the last regional instrument to come into force in August 2014.

Women’s Rights and Gender Equality across the Commonwealth

Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is central to the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN’s blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. SDG 5 calls on states to take specific action towards the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls across the world. It is also a key area of focus in the Commonwealth. Article 12 of the Commonwealth Charter recognises that gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential elements of human development and basic human rights.

There have been positive advances on gender equality across the different regions of the Commonwealth.


The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is working on eliminating gender-based violence and has been conducting prevalence studies across the countries in the region throughout 2018; the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has adopted a Protocol on Gender and Development, the first sub-regional document of its kind; and in the Pacific region, the Regional Rights Resource Team is working on legislative reform as a means of protecting and empowering women.

The EJA is building on the positive work being done across the Commonwealth to advance gender equality and is pushing for greater legal and policy reform to challenge legacy laws and patriarchal societal structures that continue to discriminate against women and perpetuate violence against women and girls.