In an ongoing series, Global Rights for Women will begin to shed light on the intersection of law and how it interacts with violence against women, illuminating how it is equally critical to make effective implementation of laws a priority. It is our goal to increase awareness and provide different perspectives about the impact of laws on women around the world. Gender-based violence takes many forms and functioning legislation is the bedrock through which the rest of the system and the public must operate to keep women safe. However, in almost every country in the world, laws also function to discriminate against and harm women. Therefore, laws must be refined to affirm and enforce women’s rights unequivocally. Sharing these perspectives is critical to realizing our mission of promoting women’s human rights to equality and freedom from violence through legal reform and systems change.
Laws have the power to shape public discourse and change cultural attitudes. For centuries, violence against women, specifically in intimate relationships, was a right men openly exercised. But in 1871, the Supreme Court of Alabama became the first court to directly rescind the legal right of men to beat their wives. Thereafter, Maryland became the first state to pass a law making wife-beating a crime in 1882. Then, forty years ago in the United States, the women’s liberation movement was successful in passing first-of-their-kind domestic violence laws, providing civil orders of protection for victims. In this country, most laws permit victims to obtain restraining orders, eviction of the abuser from the victim’s residence, no-contact or stay-away mandates, child and spousal awards and custody provisions, among other critical things to staying safe. Continue reading