The role of public institutions in Romania in preventing gender-based violence

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines sexual and gender-based violence as “the type of violence directed against a person for reasons having to do with a person’s gender or sex” (UNHCR, 2003, p. 10). This includes domestic violence, rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment, bullying at school and in the workplace, human trafficking and forced prostitution. Women, men, boys and girls can be equally affected; statistically and in terms of the variety of forms of violence to which they are subjected, women and girls are the group most affected by sexual or gender-based violence.                      

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women”, which defined the concept of “violence against women”.

According to the United Nations Declaration, “violence against women” means “any form of gender-based violence that results in actual or potential mental, sexual or psychological harm, including threats, coercion or arbitrary restrictions of freedom, whether occurring in public or in private”.   

The statement highlights groups of women who are more vulnerable to violence, namely minority women, refugee or migrant women, women living in rural or remote communities, poor women, women in institutions or in detention, women with disabilities, older women or women in situations of armed conflict.

Under the Istanbul Convention, states are called upon to take action to prevent violence against women by eradicating prejudices, customs, traditions and other practices which are based on the idea of women’s inferiority or on stereotyped roles for women and men respectively:

·       Raise awareness of violence against women.

·       Education on gender equality, non-stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence against women and the right to personal integrity, adapted to the evolving capacity of students, in the formal curriculum and at all levels of education.

·       Training of professionals dealing with victims or perpetrators of all acts of violence against women.

·       Preventive intervention and treatment programs aimed at teaching perpetrators of domestic violence to adopt non-violent behavior in interpersonal relationships in order to prevent further violence and change violent behavior patterns.

·       Involvement of the private sector and the media in the development and implementation of policies and in the setting of guidelines and self-regulatory standards to prevent violence against women and increase respect for their dignity.

In Romania, the prevention of gender-based violence is mainly the responsibility of the following institutions: the General Inspectorate for Immigration, the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police, the general directorates for social assistance and child protection, the public social assistance services, the probation services, the National Agency against Trafficking in Human Beings, the Ministry of Labor and Social Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Health at central level also have direct responsibilities for the prevention of gender-based violence.

The General Inspectorate for Immigration is obliged to implement information activities aimed at preventing gender-based violence. According to the Regulation on the internal order of the regional centers for procedures and accommodation of asylum seekers of 25.08.2016 published in the Official Gazette of Romania on 02.09.2016, article 60, the employees of the centers inform the persons accommodated in the centers about what sexual or gender-based violence is, as well as about the consequences of occurrence of such acts. The regulation also makes it compulsory to inform asylum seekers accommodated in the Regional Centers for Procedures and Accommodation (CRCPSA) of the prohibition to commit acts of violence against other foreigners accommodated there, as well as against any other persons.   

Another institution is the General Directorate for Social Assistance and Child Protection (DGASPC) which has the following responsibilities in the field of preventing and combating domestic violence, according to “Decision No. 797/2017 of 8 November 2017 approving the framework regulations for the organization and functioning of public social assistance services and the indicative staff structure”:

·       provides the necessary measures for the implementation of activities to prevent and combat domestic violence and for the provision of services for victims of domestic violence and domestic abusers;

·       monitors the measures necessary for the implementation of activities to prevent and combat domestic violence and for the provision of services for victims of domestic violence and domestic abusers;

·       develops partnerships and collaborates with non-governmental organizations and other representatives of civil society in order to provide and diversify services to prevent and combat domestic violence;

·       to provide a basis for and propose to the county council and the local council of the Bucharest municipal district respectively the establishment, financing and co-financing of public institutions providing services aimed at preventing and combating domestic violence;

·       support and develop an information and counselling system accessible to victims of domestic violence in order to exercise all the rights provided for by the laws in force;

·       monitors cases of domestic violence in the administrative-territorial unit in which it operates;

·       identifies situations of risk for the parties involved in domestic violence situations and refers the parties to specialized services/mediation;

·       it compiles at county level, respectively at the level of the districts of Bucharest, the database on cases of domestic violence and reports these data quarterly to the National Agency for Equal Opportunities between Women and Men.

For some types of gender-based violence the roles in terms of identification, assistance and protection are very clearly defined. In others, however, identification depends on the level of preparedness and proactivity of institutions and professionals who understand the impact of gender-based violence on individuals and respect for their rights.          

According to Romanian legislation, the identification of migrant victims of violence in regional accommodation centers and procedures for asylum seekers is mainly the responsibility of the General Inspectorate for Immigration, the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police, the National Agency against Trafficking in Human Beings, the National Agency for Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, and health institutions, general directorates for social assistance and child protection, local public authorities through public social assistance services and community medical assistants, schools, social assistants from other public and private structures, regional integration centers, any natural or legal person working/interacting with children or employees of public or private institutions, adult or minor victims themselves.


Romania and its stance on refugee issues

Asylum seekers in Romania face a number of difficulties, especially outside the capital, where the problems are even worse than in Bucharest.

Many asylum seekers who speak rare languages have informed EMF that there are no interpreters for them outside Bucharest. This affects their access to social, legal and medical assistance.

Asylum procedures are very complex legal processes that cannot be followed without expert assistance. The free legal aid provided by the Bar and NGOs through UNHCR funding is not sufficient to cover the basic needs of asylum seekers in Romania. In addition, specialized lawyers are not available in other locations outside Bucharest.

In assessing the credibility of an asylum claim, decision-makers do not always take into account the latest developments in the asylum seeker’s country of origin, which can lead to incorrect decisions.

Women asylum seekers feel particularly exposed during the asylum procedure. There is an acute shortage of female interpreters for rare languages, and government officials are not well trained to conduct gender-sensitive interviews nor to identify gender persecution.

People granted protection in Romania face ignorance. When refugees approach government assistance offices, they are often confronted with officials who rarely work with refugees and therefore do not know what type of assistance they qualify for.

Refugees face a similar situation when looking for work, especially outside the capital. Employers are reluctant to hire refugees because they do not understand their status or what their skills and qualifications are.

In recent years, the political debate in Romania has argued that immigration takes jobs away from local people, lowers wages and puts pressure on public services, and has focused on how aid benefits received by asylum seekers are higher than the incomes of some local workers. In addition, views on the cultural and social effects of immigration are becoming increasingly negative because of the perceived differences that people of other religions bring. Overall, these changing public attitudes explain the rise in nationalist sentiments among the population.


Gender-based discrimination enforced through law

Gender-based discrimination is often enforced through law as well as through social practices. A woman’s claim to refugee status cannot be based solely on the fact that she is subject to a national policy or law to which she objects.

The claimant will need to establish that:

1. the policy or law is inherently persecutory; or

2. the policy or law is used as a means of persecution for one of the Convention reasons; or

3. the policy or law, although having legitimate goals, is administered through persecutory means; or

4. the penalty for non-compliance with the policy or law is disproportionately severe.

The role of women in the biological and social reproduction of group identity places them in a position of particular vulnerability during war, civil war, and civil unrest. This vulnerability and the political significance of gender during periods of war and civil unrest must be specifically recognized. Women may be direct participants as fighters or they may perform supportive roles such as intelligence gathering, providing food, and nursing the wounded. This may place them at risk of persecution for a Convention reason. Many women may be targeted for persecution because of their race, nationality, clan membership, or association. In addition, women may be targeted because, as women, they have a particular symbolic status.

Women are particularly vulnerable to persecution by sexual violence as a weapon of war. As Crawley has noted:

[W]omen are specifically targeted for violence because of the symbolism of gender roles. The violation of women’s bodies acts as a symbol of the violation of the country (or equally a given political, ethnic or national group) . . . During war, women’s bodies become highly symbolic and the physical territory for a broader political struggle in which sexual violence including rape is used as a military strategy to humiliate and demoralize an opponent; women’s bodies become the battleground for ‘pay backs’, they symbolize the dominance of one group over another . . . It is important to recognize that sexual violence and rape may be an actual weapon or a strategy of war itself, rather than just an expression or consequence. In the context of armed conflict or civil war, the rape of women is also about gaining control over other men and the group (national, ethnic, political) of which they are a part.

Refugee law was formulated to serve as a back-up to the protection one expects from the State of which an individual is a national. It was meant to come into play only in situations when that protection is unavailable. Where the risk of persecution stems from actions of a State agent or non-State agent that can and will be effectively suppressed by the national government, there is no need for this surrogate international protection. As a result many countries take into account whether the claimant can avail him or herself of a safe place in the country of origin.

This is sometimes called the internal protection, internal relocation, or internal flight alternative. The protection analysis requires an objective and forward-looking assessment of the situation in the part or parts of the country proposed as alternative or safe locations. Before refugee status can be denied on the grounds that the refugee claimant has an internal protection alternative available allowing him or her to relocate, it must be possible to say that he or she can genuinely access domestic protection which is meaningful. Four minimum conditions must be satisfied. First, the proposed site of internal protection must be safely and practicably accessible. Secondly, the proposed site of internal protection must eliminate the well-founded fear of persecution, that is, the place in question must be one in which the refugee claimant is not at risk of persecution for a Convention reason. Thirdly, in the proposed site of internal protection the individual must not be exposed to a risk of other forms of Convention or non-Convention-related serious harm, even if not rising to the level of persecution. Fourthly, meaningful domestic protection implies not just the absence of risk of harm, it requires also the provision of basic norms of civil, political, and socio-economic rights.

The first condition means that a woman cannot be required to put her or her children’s personal safety at risk. It also means that, where it is a requirement of the society in the country of origin that she travel in the company of a male relative but no such relative is available, the proposed site is not practicably accessible. Where the woman is responsible for the care of children, the proposed site of internal protection must be safely and practicably accessible by the group. The second condition is largely self-explanatory. It is the third and fourth conditions which have particular application to refugee claims by women. In many societies women do not enjoy equal rights or equal access to rights. It may be that women cannot access accommodation and other fundamental necessities or cannot do so unless accompanied by a husband or a male relative. In many flight situations this may not be possible. Equally, women on their own, particularly if accompanied by children, may suffer discrimination in all aspects of life due to custom, religion, or socially constructed roles. These features can be exacerbated by the rupturing of the social fabric which often accompanies armed conflict, civil unrest, or persecution.

The ability of women to access for themselves and their families basic civil, political, and socio-economic rights is of the first importance. They must be able to provide the family with enough to eat, to maintain the household, to take care of the children and, in many cases, to support their spouse or partner. It must also be remembered that in some circumstances women face particular problems as their difficulties can stem not only from their religion, race, ethnicity, or other minority status, but also because of their sex or gender. The denial of refugee status on the basis that an internal protection alternative exists in the country of origin cannot be premised on the implicit assumption that a woman must tolerate the denial of her basic human rights.


Persecution and gender-based violence

Gender is a social relation that enters into and partially constitutes all other social relations and identities. Women’s experiences of persecution and the asylum determination process will also be shaped by differences in race, class, sexuality, age, marital status, sexual history and so on. Looking at gender, as opposed to sex, allows for an approach that can take into account specificity, diversity and heterogeneity.                                                                                                                                                                                                       Gender-related persecution refers to the experiences of women who are persecuted because they are women, i.e. because of their identity and status as women. Gender-specific persecution refers to forms of serious harm that are specific to women. However, the reasons for such persecution and the form it takes may overlap.                                                                                                                              Persecution through sexual violence must be strongly condemned, as it not only constitutes a serious violation of human rights and, when committed in the context of armed conflict, but is also a particularly serious affront to human dignity.

Persecution = serious harm + lack of state protection

Determining whether a person faces a risk of persecution requires identification of the serious harm they face in their country of origin and an assessment of the state’s ability and willingness to respond effectively to that risk. This can be expressed by the formula: persecution = serious harm + failure of state protection.                                                                                                                         Women often experience persecution differently from men. In particular, they may be persecuted through sexual violence or other gender-specific or gender-related persecution. Such violence should be interpreted broadly and can be defined as any act of gender-related violence that results 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 public or private life.

Violence against women should be understood as, but not limited to:

  •      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, extramarital violence and violence related to exploitation;
  •     physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation in the workplace, educational institutions and other settings, trafficking in women and forced prostitution;
  •        physical, sexual and psychological violence committed or condoned by the state, wherever it occurs.

Discrimination amounting to persecution

In many societies there are, to a greater or lesser extent, differences in the treatment of different groups. People who are treated less favorably as a result of these differences are not necessarily victims of persecution. Discrimination in itself is not sufficient to establish a case for refugee status. A distinction must be made between human rights violations and persecution. Not every violation of an asylum seeker’s human rights constitutes persecution. Only in certain circumstances will discrimination amount to persecution. This will be the case if the discriminatory measures lead to consequences of a substantially prejudicial nature for the person concerned.          However, discrimination can affect individuals to varying degrees and the impact of discriminatory measures on women must be recognized and given due weight. Different acts of discrimination, through their cumulative effect, can deny human dignity in essential ways and should be properly recognized as persecution under the 1951 Convention.                                                                                            Significant for gender-related claims is also an analysis of forms of discrimination on the part of the State in not extending protection to individuals against certain types of harm. If the State, as a matter of policy or practice, does not grant certain rights or protection against serious abuses, then discrimination in extending protection that results in serious harm inflicted with impunity could constitute persecution.

Persecution because of one’s sexual orientation

Asylum claims based on different sexual orientation contain a gender element. An applicant’s sexuality or sexual practices may be relevant to an asylum claim if they have been subject to persecution (including discrimination) because of their sexuality or sexual practices. In many such cases, the applicant has refused to adhere to socially or culturally defined roles or behavioral expectations attributed to their sex. The most common claims involve people of homosexual, transgender or transvestite orientation who have faced extreme public hostility, violence, abuse or serious or cumulative discrimination.                                                                                                  Where homosexuality is illegal in a particular society, imposing severe criminal penalties for homosexual behavior could amount to persecution, as with the refusal of women to wear the veil in some societies. Even where homosexual practices are not criminalized, a complainant could still establish a valid claim if the state condones or tolerates discriminatory practices or harms committed against him or her, or if the state is unable to effectively protect the complainant from such harms.

Failure of State Protection

While persecution can be defined as a sustained or systemic violation of fundamental human rights that demonstrates a lack of protection by the state, the refugee definition does not require the state itself to be the agent of harm. Persecution by “private” or non-state agents of persecution also falls within the definition. The failure of the state to protect the individual from persecution constitutes a failure of local protection.

There are four situations in which a failure of state protection can be said to exist:

  1.              persecution committed by the state in question;
  2.              persecution accepted by the state concerned;
  3.               persecution tolerated by the state concerned;
  4.           persecution that is not tolerated or tolerated by the state concerned, but still present because the state either refuses or is unable to provide adequate protection.

State complicity in persecution is not a precondition for a valid asylum claim.


Consequences of Gender-Based Violence and Prevention Strategies

 At health level

Lethal consequences (homicide, suicide, maternal mortality, infant and AIDS mortality) or non-lethal consequences occur at this level, namely:

·       Acute physical – injury, shock, disease, infection;

·   Chronic physical – disabilities, somatic problems, chronic infections, chronic pain, gastrointestinal problems, appetite and feeding disorders, sleep, drug and/or alcohol abuse);

·       Reproductive – miscarriages, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, menstrual disorders, pregnancy complications, gynecological conditions, sexual function disorders.


At the psycho-social level

Many societies blame victims/survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Marginalization and social exclusion cause subsequent disorders, including shame, self-hatred, self-loathing and depression. As a result of stigma, most victims/survivors of sexual and gender-based violence do not report these incidents. There are two categories of consequences in this regard, both of which are difficult to detect and which are remedied over time and with considerable effort:

·   Emotional and psychological consequences – post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, fear, anger, shame, insecurity, self-hatred, mental illness, suicidal thoughts and behavior.

·     Social consequences – victim/survivor blaming, loss of role/function in society, social stigma, social rejection and isolation, feminization of poverty, realization of gender inequalities.


Legal framework/Justice

If national legislation does not provide protection against sexual or gender-based violence, or if practices in legal and judicial bodies are discriminatory, this type of violence may be perpetuated by the lack of danger of criminal punishment. Common attitudes of blaming victims/survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are often reflected at court level.

Many reports/complaints of such incidents are dismissed or perpetrators receive light sentences. In some countries, the punishment for perpetrators of violence and gender-based violence is another violation of the rights and freedoms of the victim/survivor, namely forced marriage to the perpetrator. Psychologically, the victim is again victimized by the fact that the perpetrator is recognized as innocent.



The victim/survivor feels unsafe, threatened, fearful, unprotected from the risk of being assaulted again. Another aspect of the security context is that, in working with trafficking incidents, police and security forces may enter these networks. Also, if the police or security forces are not sensitive to the victim’s suffering and need for care, dignity and respect, the trauma can deepen because of the delay in providing assistance.


Victim/Survivor Assistance

Sexual and gender-based violence is an issue that affects individuals, communities and institutions. Given its complexity, this type of violence is most effectively addressed when multiple sectors, organizations and disciplines work together to identify and design strategies that can counter this violation of fundamental human rights. All actors involved in the development of these strategies need to jointly agree on a set of guiding principles and realize that sexual and gender-based violence is a serious violation of fundamental human rights.


At the level of refugee assistance, there are several principles that shape the design and design of refugee assistance:

·       Involvement of the refugee community, particularly in decision-making;

·     Ensuring a balanced participation of men and women, girls and boys in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programmers targeted at them;

·       Ensuring multispectral coordination of the actions of all actors involved;

·       Ensuring written records, data recording, planning of activities


At the individual level, the following set of principles should be taken into account:

·       Ensure the safety of victims/survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and their families;

·       Respecting the confidentiality of affected persons and their families

·       If the victim of sexual and gender-based violence is a child, the principle of the best interests of the child must prevail;

·       Non-discrimination.


At multi-sectoral level

The foundation of this approach is international protection which aims to ensure that refugees are adequately protected and enjoy the exercise of their rights.  Community involvement is essential in the design, planning and implementation of programs (involving community members in preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence). There are then principles and operational rules on which all actors involved must agree, thus ensuring a coordination function. It should not be forgotten that there may be many actors whose contribution can be useful and whose roles need to be defined. Preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence involves actions carried out by different relevant actors, most of them representing one or more of the following sectors: medical, psycho-social, security and legal.

Only by identifying the factors that contribute to and influence the type and extent of sexual and gender-based violence can appropriate and effective prevention strategies be developed. Prevention activities target potential perpetrators, potential survivors and those who can help them. Activities should therefore target refugee populations, humanitarian aid workers, host country nationals and government authorities. As with all sexual and gender-based violence programs, prevention strategies are most effective when all sectors, including refugees, are involved in their design, implementation and evaluation.

Effective prevention strategies will include actions that focus on five key objectives: transforming socio-cultural norms, with a focus on empowering women and girls; rebuilding family and community structures and support systems; designing effective services and facilities; working with formal and traditional legal systems to ensure their practices are in line with international human rights standards; and monitoring and documenting incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.

Preventing sexual and gender-based violence involves identifying and eliminating those factors that make certain members of the refugee community vulnerable to this type of violence and developing a range of strategies to improve protection for all refugees. These strategies will be most effective when they are designed, implemented and monitored by all sectors involved in protecting and assisting refugees in refugee communities and by refugees themselves.


Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country” (Article 1A, 1951 Refugee Convention).

There is an inextricable link between racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the forced displacement and ill-treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons. Racism is both a cause and a result of forced displacement and an obstacle to its resolution.

Forced displacement has become a major global phenomenon. An estimated 50 million people worldwide have been uprooted from their homes.

A large number of these people are victims of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Racism affects forcibly displaced people at every stage of the displacement cycle:

Racism in countries of origin: the cause of forced displacement

The 1951 Refugee Convention clearly recognizes the central role that racism and ethnic discrimination play in causing refugee movements. Article 1A of the 1951 Refugee Convention declares a refugee to be “a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of ‘race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’, is outside his country and is unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of his country”.

A large number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons have been forcibly displaced because of their race, ethnicity or nationality. “Ethnic cleansing” is becoming an alarmingly common phenomenon in internal conflicts, leading to both mass exodus of refugees to neighboring countries and mass internal displacement. Nationality disputes have also played a role in several contemporary refugee crises, where certain ethnic groups have been arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship before being forcibly expelled.

Racism in host countries: treatment of refugees and asylum seekers

Not only are refugees and asylum seekers fleeing situations of racial and ethnic discrimination and violence, but they are increasingly facing such hostility in countries of refuge. In the last decade, especially since the end of the Cold War era, when refugees have lost their strategic geo-political significance, there has been a global trend of xenophobia and increasing hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers. This trend is most visible in the industrialized and affluent countries of the West, where over the past decade there has been an avalanche of restrictive policies targeting today’s asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. But even traditionally generous, developing host countries, often overburdened by their own social and economic problems, have become increasingly reluctant to host large refugee populations.

Intolerance and discrimination against refugees and asylum seekers in host countries manifests itself in various forms, including:

Restrictive entry policies that obstruct the right of asylum seekers and refugees to freely leave their own country and undermine the fundamental right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. Policies often target specific groups of asylum seekers on the basis of their ethnicity, race or nationality in order to stem asylum flows from particular countries. These include measures such as:

  • Visa controls, carrier sanctions and the deployment of immigration officials as “airline liaison officers” in common refugee-producing countries to assist airline staff with pre-departure checks;
  • The application of so-called “safe third country” and “safe country of origin” policies, which risk either directly or indirectly returning refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened, in violation of the fundamental principle of non-refoulment, and which deny asylum seekers access to a full and fair assessment of their asylum claims, with full rights of appeal;
  • Proposals to respond to refugee crises in regions of origin through mechanisms such as “safe havens” and “protection within the country”, in addition to the selective admission of fixed quotas of refugees from certain regions;

Restrictions on the legal entry of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants have forced many to turn to the services of corrupt and dangerous human trafficking syndicates who are able to circumvent routine migration controls – often with serious repercussions for those involved.

Intolerance and Discrimination can take the form of racist and xenophobic portrayals of asylum seekers; refugees and migrants, in the media as criminals thus fueling feelings of hatred and contempt being against refugees and migrants on their territory.

Another form is the use of xenophobic and racist rhetoric by politicians and public officials, and the manipulation of xenophobic hate feelings and fears, often for political gain.

Refugees/asylum seekers and migrants are often the victims of racist attacks, with law enforcement agencies often failing to take adequate action to bring perpetrators to justice.


Protection of migrants against sexual and gender-based violence

Preventing and responding to sexual and gender-based violence is directly linked to the protection of human rights. Every individual, regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, political orientation, national or social origin, property, social status, etc. is entitled to respect, protection, exercise of fundamental human rights and freedoms. Acts of sexual and gender-based violence restrict a range of fundamental human rights.

  • The right to physical and mental health;
  • The right to freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment;
  • The right to freedom of movement, opinion, expression and association;
  • The right to enter into a marriage on the basis of free and full consent and to enjoy equal rights with one’s partner, both during marriage and at its dissolution;
  • The right to education, social security and personal development;
  •   The right to cultural, political and public participation, equal access to services, employment and equal remuneration for work.

In this regard, there are several significant international instruments addressing sexual and gender-based violence:
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – United Nations General Assembly, 1981;
  • United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women – United Nations General Assembly, 1993;
  • Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 1995;
  • Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998;
  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, 2000;

Causes of sexual and gender-based violence

Understanding the causality of the occurrence of sexual and gender-based violence is a source for developing action plans to prevent it. The causes of sexual and gender-based violence are to be found in society’s attitudes and practices of gender discrimination, which place women in a subordinate position to men. The lack of social and economic valuing of women and their work and the acceptance of gender-specific roles perpetuates and reinforces the presumption that men have decision-making power and control over women. Through acts of sexual and gender-based violence, committed at individual or group level, persecutors tend to maintain their privilege, power and control over others. Gender identity and gender roles are determined by sex, age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, nationality and religion. Relationships between women and men, among women as well as men, are marked by different levels of authority and power that maintain privilege and subordination among members of a society. Disagreement or lack of responsiveness to human rights, gender equality, democracy and non-violent means of conflict resolution contribute to the perpetuation of these inequalities.

A person can become a victim or even an aggressor in the context of the existence/appearance the following types of risks:

  • Risks at individual level – lack of security, addiction, physical and mental disabilities, lack of alternatives in adapting to socio-economic changes of status, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, psychological trauma and stress of conflict, refuge, internal displacement, ignorance, lack of knowledge of basic individual rights as stipulated by national and international bodies;
  • Risks to social and cultural norms – discriminatory cultural and traditional beliefs and practices, religious beliefs;
  • Legal framework and practices in the host country and/or country of origin – lack of protection of women’s and children’s rights against sexual and gender-based violence, lack of trust in state authorities, application of traditional laws and practices favoring discrimination, lack of interest in the subject, discriminatory practices in the administration of justice, non-reporting of incidents of sexual and gender-based violence and lack of trust in the administration of justice, lack of interest in prosecuting all reported cases of sexual and gender-based violence, low number of convictions obtained in proportion to the number of reports of sexual and gender-based violence, inaccessibility of police and courts due to the location of refugee camps, absence of women in the judiciary, lack of administrative resources and equipment of local courts and security forces, laws or practices in the administration of justice that support gender bias;
  • War and armed conflict – destruction of social structures, exercise of political power and control over communities, ethical differences, socio-economic discrimination;
  • Refugee situations, return and internal displacement – collapse of family and social support structures, high crime locations, overcrowded camps, shelters and communal households, service mix, facilities and access to them, male-dominated leaders in communities, lack of food, fuel, income and the possibility of payment for work done, lack of protection from police forces, lack of NGO representatives in refugee camps, lack of identity documents and non-registration of individuals, hostile local populations – refugees seen as materially privileged.

Victims/survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are at high risk of severe health and psycho-social disorders. The potential for long-term psycho-emotional trauma should not be underestimated.

Understanding the potential consequences of sexual and gender-based violence will help stakeholders to develop appropriate strategies for responding to these effects and to prevent conditions from worsening or worsening


Combating violence against women and domestic violence

Violence against women includes all acts of gender-based violence that cause or are likely to cause physical, sexual, psychological or economic harm or suffering – namely sexual violence, rape, genital mutilation, forced marriage, forced abortion, forced sterilization, trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, stalking for the purpose of harassment, sexual harassment, femicide, hate speech, sex crimes in online form (cyber violence), non-consensual sharing or manipulation of intimate material, cyber stalking and internet harassment.

Domestic violence is a form of violence against women that occurs within the family. Women are disproportionately represented as victims of all forms of violence because of underlying patterns of coercion, power and/or control.                                 Last but not least, cyber violence is an extension of the violence that victims face in offline environments. Despite the widespread spread of cyber violence, the regulatory process is so far highly fragmented, with significant legal gaps identified at both EU and Member State level.

Significant for the EU agenda to combat violence against women is the new Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (known as the Istanbul Convention), which has comprehensively addressed violence against women and domestic violence.                                                                                                                                                    In 2016, the proposal for a Council Decision on the signing, on behalf of the European Union, of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (COM(2016)111) was presented. A year later, the Convention was signed, on behalf of the EU, by the European Commission and the Council of the EU. However, the accession process has not been finalized so far as the EU Council has not adopted the final decision.                                                                                   In the meantime, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted on 18 December 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly, entered into force as an international treaty on 3 September 1981 after ratification by 20 countries. By the Convention’s tenth anniversary in 1989, almost one hundred nations had agreed to abide by its provisions. States Parties to the Convention condemned discrimination against women in all its forms and agreed to pursue, by all appropriate means and without delay, a policy of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women. Romania ratified the Convention on 7 January 1982.                                                          

The June 2019 International Labor Organization Convention on the Elimination of Violence and Harassment at Work (C190) aims to stop violence and harassment through the adoption of innovative international instruments, making it the first international standard to end violence and harassment in the world of work. The Convention fills existing gaps in legislation and protects all workers, regardless of their contractual status – trainees, apprentices, licensed workers, volunteers or job seekers.

At EU level there are several legal instruments relevant to victims of violence against women and domestic violence. These establish either general rules applicable to this category of victims or specific rules on certain forms of such violence.

Recent developments at EU level to combat this phenomenon include:

·       2019 – The political guidelines for the European Commission 2019-2024, in particular those referring to “A Union of Equality”, highlight the need to prevent and combat violence against women, protect victims and punish perpetrators;

·       2020 – Gender Equality Strategy 2020-20255 (COM(2020)152) includes measures to prevent such violence, to protect victims, to prosecute perpetrators and to implement comprehensive and coordinated policies in this area.

·       2020 – EU Strategy on Victims’ Rights 2020-2025 (COM(2020)258) calls on the European Commission, EU Member States, civil society, all stakeholders, to get involved and pay particular attention to the specific needs of victims of gender-based violence.

·       2020 – Proposal for a Directive on adequate minimum wages in the European Union (COM(2020)682) aims to ensure that workers in the EU are protected by adequate minimum wages, enabling them to make a decent living wherever they work, by establishing a framework to improve the adequacy of minimum wages and to increase workers’ access to minimum wage protection.

·       2020 – Equality Strategy for LGBTIQ people 2020-2025 (COM(2020)698) addresses the inequalities and challenges affecting LGBTIQ people with a view to creating an Equality Union. It pays particular attention to the diverse needs of LGBTIQ people and the most vulnerable groups, including people facing intersectional discrimination and transgender, non-binary and intersex people, who are among the least accepted groups in society and who generally face higher levels of discrimination and violence than other groups within LGBTIQ communities. The strategy argues that discrimination is often multidimensional and that only a cross-sectional approach can lead to sustainable and respected changes in society.

·       2020 – Digital Services Act (COM(2020)825) which helps protect online users.

·       2021 – Gender Equality Action Plan (GAP) III (JOIN(2020)17) is an ambitious agenda for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the EU’s external action; combating gender-based violence becomes one of the priorities for EU external action.

·       2021 – Proposal for a Directive on strengthening the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value for men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms (COM(2021)93) seeks to remedy the respect of the fundamental right to equal pay and the enforcement of this right across the EU by setting pay transparency standards that enable workers to claim their right to equal pay.

·       2021 – Disability Rights Strategy 2021-2030 (COM(2021)101) aims to improve the lives of people with disabilities over the next decade, both at EU and national level, with a strong commitment from Member States and regional and local authorities to deliver the actions proposed by the European Commission.

·       2021 – The Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights (COM(2021)102) reiterates the commitment to combat gender-based violence, reducing it in employment by at least half compared to 2019.

·       2021 – EU comprehensive strategy on the rights of the child (COM(2021)142) reaffirms the rights and their role in society, in particular in relation to nature, climate change, discrimination and injustice.

·       2021 – A more inclusive and protective Europe (COM(2021)777) aims to include hate speech and hate crimes in the list of EU criminal offences.

·       2022 – The European Commission’s annual report on gender equality in the EU (SWD(2022)54) notes that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. In 2020, women’s labor market participation rate fell by 0.5% compared to 2019, after a decade of steady growth.


Gender-based violence and the life cycle

 Violence against girls and women occurs at different stages in their life cycle. Many women experience multiple episodes of violence, which can start from childhood through to adulthood and old age.

The life-cycle approach to gender-based violence helps to understand the cumulative impact of violence faced by girls and women, particularly in terms of its consequences for physical and mental health. These aspects are also important in documenting cases, but also in analyzing the phenomenon.

From the experience of several countries, violence and the female life cycle can be addressed, studied and monitored in a multi-directional way, where several forms of violence can be identified among both residents and refugees or asylum seekers.

Thus, among people from different cultures and according to age, different forms of violence can be identified and documented, as listed in the study entitled “Documenting Gender Based Violence”:


Life periods

Forms of violence


gender selection; physical abuse of the mother during pregnancy;
imposed/forced pregnancy.


physical, emotional and sexual abuse; abusive home environment; neglect,
including differential access to food and health care.


environment of domestic violence; physical, emotional and sexual abuse; child
prostitution; early/forced marriage; genital mutilation; neglect, including
differential access to food, health care and education.


and pornography, including human trafficking; sexual harassment (at school,
in the street or elsewhere); early/forced marriage; honor killings; intimate
partner violence; rape and sexual harassment by known (including relatives)
or unknown men; genital mutilation.


harassment at work or in public places; intimate partner violence; rape and
sexual assault; forced/forced pregnancy; economic abuse and coercion; sexual
exploitation and trafficking; stalking/persecution; honor killings; femicide.


abuse; intimate partner violence; rape; widow abuse; public sexual
harassment; institutional abuse.

The causes and roots of gender-based violence can be individual or societal.

Individual causes can be root causes or immediate causes:

Root causes are:

·       Alcohol and other substance abuse;

·       Mental disorders (including post-traumatic);

·       (exaggerated) Desire for control;

·       Personality disorders;

·       Aggressive behavior (not only in the family but also in society).

An important factor is childhood abuse and trauma. The risk of violence and abuse of a young person who has also been abused is high. Abuse becomes a model of the good or a solution to his psychological problems, deprivation or failed relationships. Abusive behavior becomes a habit for abusers because: it provides solutions for the present; it is based on control over others, which is something abusers want; it is admitted, unpunished or even supported and therefore teaches them that they can multiply abusive behavior to their benefit.

One important factor is childhood abuse and trauma. The risk of violence and abuse being applied to a young person who has also been abused is high. Abuse becomes a model of good or a solution to his psychological problems, deprivation or failed relationships.

Abusive behavior becomes a habit for abusers because: it provides solutions for the present; it is based on control over others, which is something abusers want; it is admitted, unpunished or even supported and therefore teaches them that they can multiply abusive behavior to their benefit.

The immediate causes are:

·       Acute or chronic stress (stress levels can also increase as a result of major structural changes that occur as a result of going through the family life cycle);

·       Anger attacks (especially in people with low self-control);

·       Depression (which can be caused by various factors or by previous trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder);

·       Despair (often linked to major changes in the person’s life or in society);

·       Jealousy attacks;

·       Material deprivation, economic problems, unemployment.

The societal causes of perpetuating antisocial behavior by perpetrators can be linked to several factors and may include:

·       Discrimination against women (in the family, at work, in politics, etc.);

·       Societal stereotypes, based on social sexualization, which privileges men;

·       Promotion of the male model of success in society;

·       Imperfect legal framework, which does not facilitate victims’ access to justice;

·       In many cases, domestic violence is not seen as a potentially criminal act, but is often seen as a “family dispute” in which no one should get involved;

·       Lack or inadequacy of rehabilitation and support services for victims;

·       Lack or insufficiency of knowledge and skills of different professionals in the field of trauma and documentation of the consequences of violence;

·       The courts do not have a firm response to perpetrators, and court cases can take a long time, so perpetrators are rarely subject to severe economic sanctions or deprivation of liberty;

·       The community tolerates perpetrators, often seeking explanations/justifications for them, blaming the woman (victim);

·       Tolerance of violence, thanks to norms that legitimize the use of physical force as a means of education;

·       The community may see abuse as part of the relationship (“when it’s good, when it’s bad”/”bad with bad, but worse without bad”);

·       Negative/abusive involvement in the family relationship of other community members, relatives (brothers-in-law, in-laws), who induce tension and generate conflict, through destructive actions due to jealousy, envy, revenge, etc.;

·       The insistence of the community (counsellors, church, relatives, etc.) to offer a second chance to restore the relationship or maintain the family, “in the interests of the children”;

·       The social inequality and financial dependence of women, who cannot work because of the need for childcare. This situation is also aggravated by the lack/lack or poor quality of childcare services (e.g. crèches, kindergartens, day centers for children with disabilities, etc.);

·       Lack of a culture of assertive communication in society and inability to manage conflict;

·       Lack of family counselling services at district center, village level (lack of psychologists or insufficient training for such services);



Gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict situations

Gender-based violence is a serious violation of human rights. The obligations and commitments articulated in numerous international and regional instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Beijing Platform for Action, the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, Security Council Resolutions 1308, 1325, 1820, 1888 and others, provide a global perspective that requires the UN and States Parties to take action at all appropriate levels.

There are three key principles underlying Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict:

  • violence against women and girls is almost always more prevalent than violence against men and boys in conflict situations;
  • men and boys are part of the problem and need to become a bigger part of the solution;
  • sexual violence against women and girls, as well as boys and men, stems from many of the same root causes and therefore solutions need to be addressed in a more holistic way.
Conflict exacerbates gender inequalities and abuses of power that can lead to gender-based violence. Conflict does not cause sexual and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), although it can manifest new forms of GBV in those environments. Sexual violence takes on new forms as a consequence of conflict and is often used as a tactic of war, either randomly, opportunistically or systematically.

Both in conflict and post-conflict situations, sexual violence tends to be more prevalent and more serious because of higher levels of violence, the breakdown of social cohesion and law and order, and the exacerbation of existing vulnerabilities. With the breakdown of social order, impunity is also more likely.

Sexual and other forms of gender-based violence are used in conflicts as a tool to de-motivate conflict-affected populations to prevent them from fighting back, through terror and attempts at subjugation, or to humiliate and shame men and women. Sometimes gender-based violence is used as a tool to indoctrinate and create group bonds for combatants. Gender-based violence is used as a reward or form of compensation (‘spoils of war’) for combatants who are usually not otherwise paid. Sexual violence is sometimes an instrument of genocide, used to transform the ethnic or social composition of a society. Combatants may use it both strategically, as a threat or warning to control areas of economic or political importance, and randomly, as a result of perpetuating a cycle of anxiety and fear that impedes recovery (UNFPA, 2012) and affects the emotions and psychological well-being of those who have endured such violence.

 Most of the direct victims of gender-based violence are women and girls; some are men and boys.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s study “Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post-Conflict: The Involvement of Men and Boys”, the testimonies of women who live to tell of their suffering, including as sex slaves during war, demonstrate the unimaginable levels of trauma that have been inflicted on women and girls. According to the same study, in post-conflict environments, sexual violence and physical violence against a female partner can be ways for a man to assert his dominance. Even if he has lost everything.

 Addressing the multidimensional problem of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings is complex and difficult. The international community has recognized that effective prevention and response will require long-term, comprehensive and coordinated multi-stakeholder efforts that address the different aspects of affected populations, including their health, education, economic, legal, psychosocial and security concerns.