The legal framework addressing violence against women in Scotland and the influence of CEDAW

Lynsey Mitchell

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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This report provides an overview of the current legal and policy situation of violence against women (VAW) in Scotland and evaluates the influence of CEDAW on this framework. Methods of research included review and analysis of a variety of primary and secondary sources. Sources included Scottish legislation and policies pertaining to VAW, reports submitted by Scottish and UK NGOs as well as international legal documents such as the Concluding Observations of the CEDAW Committee to the United Kingdom. The team of researchers also conducted first-hand interviews with legal practitioners, women’s rights advocates and members of NGOs. The interviews were conducted to enhance the understanding of how legislation and policies operate in practice and to ascertain the status given to CEDAW by those working in the area of VAW.

The report finds that Scotland has been relatively progressive and consistent in legislating to tackle VAW. Renewed pledges in 2015 for resources and funding by the current Scottish Government are a further indicator of such dedication. The need to attain gender equality is a reccurring aspiration within the Government’s policies and is recognised as the primary solution to VAW. Furthermore, the Government’s adoption of a wide definition of domestic abuse and its commitment to eradicating it through a multi-agency approach has also been welcomed.

Despite Scotland’s commendable efforts in developing legislation and policies to prevent and address VAW, action on the ground has been slower. Women’s rights advocates and practitioners believe that the policies are well intentioned but do not translate into measurable solutions or actions for survivors of domestic or sexual violence. The restrictions of powers in Scotland, as a result of being a devolved country within the United Kingdom, have also had a significant impact on how the country is able to interact with international conventions. The awareness of CEDAW is low amongst those who do not work with women’s rights or within the Government. The researchers found that CEDAW operated as an aspirational but remote framework and there was little confidence that the Optional Protocol (OP) did, or could, function as a viable legal remedy for women. Those working in criminal justice were much less
likely to cite awareness of CEDAW or welcome it as a potential framework that might operate in Scotland and the researchers found little support for incorporating CEDAW into domestic legislation.

Overall, the research paints a varied picture of VAW law and policy in Scotland. There is a solid legal framework but this appears to fall short when implemented. Many Government documents directly reference UN definitions of VAW, although it appeared these were used to highlight that Scotland was at the international forefront and is aware of international policy, rather than suggested as a remedy. The researchers could find no reference to the CEDAW OP as a viable remedy for victims in Scotland within the policy documents. NGOs and agencies working directly with women experiencing violence often responded that despite impressive commitments from Government, obstacles facing women remain. Many cited lack of funding as the main problem that hindered their work. Many NGOs and grassroots organisations either operate as charities or receive direct funding from Government. In times of Government
spending cuts, many of these front-line services are being squeezed. As these are frontline services for victims of VAW, many respondents found this difficult to reconcile with the Government’s rhetoric on the issue.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyCarr Centre for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes


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