The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993, defines violence against women as:
any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in the public or private life” (Declaration article 1)
Violence against women shall be understood to encompass, but not be limited to, the following:
(a) Physical, sexual, and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence relating to exploitation;
(b) Physical, sexual, and psychological violence occurring in the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
(c) Physical, sexual, and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State, wherever it occurs.” (Declaration article 2)
CEDAW’s General Recommendation 19, adopted in 1992, provides further guidance and defines gender-based violence as “violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or which affects a woman disproportionately.” (CEDAW GR19 – what is CEDAW?)
Women’s rights were first generally recognised as human rights with CEDAW in the late 70s, but gender-based violence did not become recognised as a violation of human rights until 1993, at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. That achievement was largely due to the activism and uproar from civil society. The Vienna Declaration explicitly states that the elimination of violence against women is central to the attainment of women’s human rights. Vienna was a huge milestone in the fight for women and girls .
In short, according to international law and the UN, violence against women and girls includes domestic violence, intimate partner violence, sexual assault or harassment at work, school, or any other public location, trafficking, harmful traditional practices including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), or any form of violence against women perpetrated by the state, such as rape as a weapon of war.