Academic journal article Ave Maria Law Review

Mulieris Dignitatem, Ephesians 5, and Domestic Violence: Grounding International Women's Human Rights

Academic journal article Ave Maria Law Review

Mulieris Dignitatem, Ephesians 5, and Domestic Violence: Grounding International Women's Human Rights

Article excerpt

[Young women] have been trained to accept that to be equal to men, they must be the same in every respect; and they, and the men, are worse off for it. It is for the next generation of young women that I am writing this book. Perhaps ... I will only end up making a fool of myself, but I think the stakes are now high enough to justify the risk. (1)

~Wendy Shalit


This Article considers the contribution of Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women to the deeper understanding of women's dignity as it relates to the process of articulating and rearticulating international women's rights, with particular attention on domestic violence. (2) This letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, brings together some of the Catholic Church's most important teachings on gender equality. This Article delineates norms articulated in Mulieris Dignitatem that can inform international standards regarding the protection of women from domestic violence.

To date there are no legally binding global human rights instruments that explicitly recognize the right to be free from domestic violence, and remarkably, domestic violence is not robustly emphasized in several feminist legal theories. The objective of this Article is to contribute recommendations for a more truly pro-women global community and Catholic Church. (3)

This Article is structured as follows: Part I discusses the global problem of domestic violence and the lack of response from states; Part II focuses on the contribution of the Catholic Church regarding international human rights and the dignity of women as expressed in Mulieris Dignitatem; Part III discusses the norms and enforcement of women's rights with particular emphasis on the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women ("CEDAW") and the international instruments and precedents complimenting it; Part IV sets forth the Catholic Church's teaching on the dignity of the family and the general principles applicable to the issue of domestic violence; and Part V evaluates the international effort against domestic violence and how reservations to certain articles in CEDAW have inhibited the enforcement of women's rights. This Article concludes by calling for stronger domestic laws to protect women as well as increased efforts to educate the public on the inherent dignity of women.


Many countries have taken social and structural steps to tackle domestic violence, but legal progress has been limited. (4) Domestic violence is a global problem. (5) Every day, throughout the world, women are commonly subjected to humiliating and debilitating acts of physical and other violence. (6) In 2005, the World Health Organization released the most comprehensive and scientific international study on the issue of domestic violence to date. (7) It confirmed that "[v]iolence against women by their live-in spouses or partners is a widespread phenomenon, both in the developed and developing world, as well as in rural and urban areas." (8) An article in the New York Times summarizes similar studies:

      The rate of abuse by [domestic] partners is estimated to be
   around 20 percent to 25 percent in the European Union, smaller
   studies have found, although the problem is reported to the
   police in only a tiny fraction of cases.

      In the United States, national surveys by the federal Centers for
   Disease Control and Prevention have found that about 25 percent of
   women said they had been physically or sexually assaulted by a
   spouse, partner or date. (9)

Likewise, in justifying its focus on domestic violence against women, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes that eighty-five percent of the victims in reported cases of nonlethal domestic violence are women. (10)

Despite this prevalence, at the global level there is no international treaty that specifically addresses violence against women as a human rights issue. …

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