Despite decades of international and national action addressing violence against women, the phenomenon continues to exist around the world in myriad forms, imposing enormous human and social costs on individuals and communities. One recent suggestion for enhancing existing responses has been the proposal to develop a new United Nations treaty that would explicitly and systematically address violence against women. A principal proponent of such an initiative has been Rashida Manjoo, the former UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. Professor Manjoo argues that there is a ‘normative gap’ in international law that such a treaty would fill, and that a new instrument could contribute significantly to the struggle to eliminate violence against women through its symbolic, political and practical impacts. The nature and contents of such a treaty have yet to be delineated, in particular whether it would be substantive or procedural.

This presentation examines the claim that there is a normative gap in international law relating to violence against women. It argues that such a claim is apt to mislead and is also potentially counter-productive insofar as it may undermine the advances of the last three decades which have established and clarified States’ international legal obligations in relation to violence against women. The critical questions in deciding whether a new treaty should be pursued are not whether one can find a ‘normative gap’, but whether the drafting, adoption and implementation of such a treaty would provide overall advantages in efforts to eliminate violence against women, taking into account any disadvantages that this might involve (such as the diversion of resources, the questioning of the coverage of existing treaties. The attempt to construct a normative gap has distorted this inquiry and the focus of our discussions should be what such an instrument might usefully add to the existing body of law, norms and practice on the subject, substantively and in terms of effective advocacy and implementation.  FULL DETAILS