Violence against women

October 10, 2005 - nr.18



On 21 May 2000 the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment requested the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) to prepare an advisory report on the multi-year equal opportunities policy document (request enclosed as Annexe I).

The AIV was asked to provide suggestions and views on the direction to be taken on human rights policy, as set out in the section on human rights and women.1 In recent months several reports and papers have been written and incorporated into the finalised multi-year equal opportunities policy document.2 The AIV has examined the sections related to human rights and has noted that its conclusions largely answer the questions posed in the original request to the AIV. After consultation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW), the AIV has therefore decided to limit the main thrust of its advisory report to the most recent developments in international law related to protecting the human rights of women, with special attention to violence against women. It also looks at government proposals for tackling gender-based discrimination, which continues to be a deeply-rooted phenomenon in many countries. Progress in this area has been limited and slow.

The request states that recent decades have seen important developments in international law relating to combating violence against women. The AIV was asked to appraise them and give its opinion on whether the new international norms have been defined clearly enough to protect women's rights effectively. There are still some differences of interpretation of the terms used. These are often related to the issue of universality versus cultural relativism, the subject of a 1998 AIV report which also examined ways of protecting women's rights. In principle, the issues and the conclusions reached have not changed since then. In this connection the AIV will therefore confine itself to a general reference to that advisory report.3

To gain insight into which organisations have been working on the issue of violence against women in recent decades and into the types of violence that are involved, the AIV has commissioned two background reports. The first report, written by Dr I. Boerefijn,4 shows that many international organisations are working to prevent and eliminate violence against women and have developed specific programmes and projects to that end. Each one interprets ‘violence against women’ in its own way, and differences of opinion exist on definitions and their application. Developments in formulating legal definitions and in criminalising forms of violence are the main themes of the second report, written by Ms H.M. Verrijn Stuart.5 The AIV would like to thank both authors for these reports, which will be published separately.

Section I of this advisory report looks at a number of general legal aspects of violence against women and the development of norms in several international forums. Section II examines the monitoring of compliance with the norms, with reference to specific kinds of violence against women such as honour crimes. It also examines types of violence against women which have not yet been explicitly condemned by international bodies or which the AIV believes should receive more attention (such as genital mutilation). Section III looks at other relevant developments and at the desirability of creating a single unambiguous definition of violence against women. It also looks at new developments in the law, at the formulation of definitions in the criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and at the drafting of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Section IV briefly examines aspects of the policy on prosecution and on granting refugee status in the Netherlands in the light of the developments detailed in this advisory report. Section V presents a summary of the recommendations.

The advisory report was compiled by a Multi-Year Emancipation Policy Document Committee (CME) set up for the purpose. Its members were: Professor C.E. von Benda-Beckmann- Droogleever Fortuijn (chair), Professor P.R. Baehr, Dr M.C. Castermans-Holleman, T. Etty, Professor C. Flinterman, Professor W.J.M. van Genugten, L.Y. Gonçalves-Ho Kang You, C. Hak, M. Koers-van der Linden and H.M. Verrijn Stuart (Human Rights Committee), and Dr O.B.R.C. van Cranenburgh*:, I.E.M. Dankelman, Professor E.J. de Kadt*, Professor R. Rabbinge*, E.M. Schoo and Professor J.Th. Schrijvers* (Development Cooperation Committee). Members whose name is marked with an asterisk (*) acted chiefly as a corresponding member of the CME.

In drawing up the advisory report, the committee was assisted by its official advisor M. van Zomeren (Human Rights Division, Human Rights and Peacebuilding Departement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) with the assistance of the Human Rights Committee secretary T.D.J. Oostenbrink and interns E. van Zimmeren, A.S. Brinks and M.M.T. Keyte.

The advisory report was adopted by the AIV on 12 February 2001.

  1. See multi-year emancipation policy document ‘From Women's Lib to Inalienable Right', Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, March 2000, Section IV.
  2. 'Multi-year plan on emancipation policy; Short and medium term'. Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, November 2000, hereafter referred to as ‘Multi-year emancipation policy plan’.
  3. AIV report no 4 ‘Universality of human rights and cultural diversity’, The Hague, June 1998.
  4. See report by Dr I Boerefijn ‘Violence against women, an overview of current international law’, SIM, Utrecht, November 2000.
  5. See report by H.M. Verrijn Stuart, ‘Sexual violence during armed conflicts: a discussion of recent developments in case law’, January 2001.
Advice request

Advisory Council on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague

Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment
Department for the Coordination of
Emancipation Policy (DCE)
P.O. Box 90801
2509 LV The Hague

Date 31 May 2000

Contact H.F. de Vries

Our Ref. DCE 2000/36548

Tel . (031) 70 333 4838.


Re: request for an advisory report on the multi-year Equal Opportunities policy document


Enclosed you will find a copy of the multi-year policy document on Equal Opportunities, in which the government outlines the five domains in which it will pursue policies, and the line it plans to take in doing so.

The government has chosen the three domains traditionally targeted by equal opportunities policy, i.e. work, care and income; power and decision-making; and human rights. But it has also selected two new themes, i.e. time allocation and ICT. Each section of the document looks at the current state of affairs in the domain in question, relevant trends, and pointers for future policy.

The government has consulted various civil society organisations, representing women, ethnic minorities and young people on the main outlines of policy and the line it plans to pursue. It has also asked a number of advisory bodies for their recommendations. These include the Socioeconomic Council, the Public Administration Council, the Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment Council, the Education Council and the Social Development Council as well as the Advisory Council on International Affairs. Once it has received these recommendations, the government will work out the details of policy in the medium term, and present them in a multi-year policy plan. By adopting this approach, the government hopes to build a solid base of public and political support for policy that aims to speed up efforts to ensure equal opportunities for all.

We would appreciate in particular receiving your suggestions and views on the direction to be taken by human rights policy, as set out in the section on ‘human rights and women’ of the policy document. In addition to your general views on this section, we would ask you to give us your opinion on the following two specific points.

  1. Universality versus cultural relativism. The final declaration of the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993 recognises the existence of differences in attitudes deriving from tradition, culture and religion, but regards them as secondary to the universality of human rights. The Advisory Council on International Affairs published its report "Universality of human rights and cultural diversity" in 1998, which examined the question of human rights in relation to women. We would be grateful if the Council were to update this advisory report, since some countries still claim religious background and traditional practices as reasons for restricting the rights of women and girls, for instance. With the arrival of immigrants from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds, different attitudes on women’s rights are also making their way into the Netherlands. This presents many opportunities to upgrade the quality of society – an aim that the policy document expresses with the word ‘diversity’, but also brings the discussion on universality versus cultural relativism closer to home. Cultural, traditional and religious obstacles to women’s human rights observance also perpetuate practices such as genital mutilation and blood feud.
    • Can the Council recommend any further measures that can be taken in the field of prosecution and penalties, and information and education to prevent and combat these traditional practices?
    • What are the Council’s views on parents sending their daughters to their country of origin to undergo circumcision?
  2. In the past few years a number of new basic concepts have been developed in the international discourse on women’s rights. They include terms such as ‘reproductive and sexual rights’, ‘sexual and gender-based violence’ and ‘rape as a war crime’, which are increasingly being accepted and defined in international law, for instance in the case law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, resolutions of the UN General Assembly, the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Commission on Human Rights. These concepts are essential to the effective protection of women’s rights in the future too. They are not all defined in legally binding instruments, and the definitions themselves sometimes differ. Reproductive and sexual rights, which are sensitive subjects, are not yet fully defined in international law, and many countries have still to accept them.
    • What value does the Council attach to these new developments in international law?
    • Are these new international norms adequate in the Council’s opinion and have they been defined clearly enough to protect women’s rights, or does the Council feel there is reason to develop them more fully in international law instruments? If so, should these instruments be legally binding?


We look forward to receiving your report at your earliest convenience.


Yours sincerely,

J.J. van Aartsen
Minister of Foreign Affairs

A.E. Verstand-Bogaert
State Secretary for Social Affairs and Employment

Government reactions

This document is not available

Press releases

No press release has been published for this advice.