Looking to CEDAW: An Opportunity to Protect Women’s and Children’s Rights in Spain and worldwide (Women’s Link Worldwide)

Gema and Paloma Soria copy

Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana and Paloma Soria Montañez of Women’s Link Worldwide discuss Ángela González Carreño v. Spain, a family violence case currently pending before the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee)

Click here to read the post in Spanish.


Factual background

After more than 20 years of being subjected to violence by her partner, in 1999, Ángela Gonzalez left her family home with her three-year-old daughter Andrea after an episode of violence that took place in front of the girl.  Ángela feared that the aggressor –Mr. Rascón – would kill her and her daughter or cause them grave harm. 

Ángela reported the violence she had been suffering, both before the police and the courts on several occasions, and initiated divorce proceedings.  During the following four years that she lived separated from the aggressor, Ángela fought tirelessly to protect her daughter from her daughter’s abusive father and used all the means at her disposal to protect her daughter.  She went before the courts repeatedly to ask, amongst other things, for Rascón’s visitation with Andrea to be supervised.  Despite her efforts and belief in the social protection services and the judiciary, the system failed her and her daughter completely.  Rascón was allowed to have unsupervised visits with Andrea.  On 24 April 2003, during one of these unsupervised visits, Rascón murdered his six-year-old daughter and then committed suicide.

Despite filing more than thirty complaints seeking protection, Ángela’s abuser was condemned only once to a misdemeanour for harassment with a fine.  Ángela had requested protection orders repeatedly for herself and her daughter.  The courts granted the protection order for Ángela, but Mr. Rascón violated the order repeatedly, without consequences for him.  A protection order for Andrea was granted only on one occasion, but even this order was withdrawn later because the judicial authorities said “it hindered Mr. Rascón’s visitation rights.”  In withdrawing the order, the judiciary allowed Rascón’s visitation rights to prevail over the right of Ángela to live free of violence and the best interests of the girl child. 

After Andrea’s death, Ángela unsuccessfully sought justice and reparations from the State for the negligence of the authorities that led to the death of her daughter.  Ángela litigated her case through the court system in Spain, filing before both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.  At every instance, the courts failed to recognise the authorities’ negligence in Andrea’s death, further violating the rights of both Ángela and Andrea.  

Why the CEDAW Committee? 

In her hunt for justice, Ángela decided to take her case to an international body, the CEDAW Committee.  She wanted the State to be held responsible for the acts that led to her daughter’s death and, even more important to her, she continues her fight in the hopes of having the case lead to systemic changes and guarantees of non-repetition for other women and children victims of domestic and gender-based violence. 

Ángela highly values that the CEDAW Committee is the only international body dealing specifically with women’s rights, including the right of women to be free of discrimination on the basis of their sex/gender.  The CEDAW Committee has developed extremely valuable expertise analysing the context of discrimination in which the facts of individual communications brought before it take place.  This expertise has allowed it to take its views from a gender perspective that enables the identification of harmful gender stereotyping.  Moreover, the CEDAW Committee’s case-law sets an international standard that can have an impact on all 187 State Parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Ángela’s claim under the Optional Protocol to CEDAW 

Represented by Women’s Link Worldwide, Angela’s communication to the CEDAW Committee alleges violations by Spain of articles 2 (general obligations), 5 (stereotyping) and 16 (equality in marriage and family relations) of CEDAW.

Ángela has claimed in her communication that Spanish authorities violated article 2 of CEDAW by failing to act with due diligence, by all means at its disposal and without delay, to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish the violence committed against her and Andrea by Rascón, resulting in the murder of Andrea.  Moreover, she has claimed that Spain violated article 2 of CEDAW when, following the murder of Andrea, its courts failed to offer Ángela an effective judicial response or adequate reparations for the harm she had suffered as a result of the negligent actions of the State Party.   

In addition, Ángela has claimed that the State Party’s reliance on harmful gender stereotypes when responding to the violence she and her daughter experienced and when determining the visitation rights of the batterer, violated article 5(a) of CEDAW. 

Finally, Ángela has claimed that the State Party failed to fulfill its due diligence obligation to protect her rights in article 16 of CEDAW, since no remedy was provided after she repeatedly reported the violation of her right to equality in the economic maintenance of Andrea by Rascón.  

Ángela’s expectations 

Ángela’s struggle has always been fueled by her desire to ensure that what happened to her and her daughter doesn’t happen again to any other woman or child.  She is therefore looking to the CEDAW Committee to adopt broad reparation measures and to issue general recommendations to the State Party that can bring about structural changes that will better protect women and children suffering from domestic violence.  Ángela also hopes that her case will clearly identify gender stereotyping as a root cause of violence and discrimination and help to highlight how such stereotyping negatively affects women’s right to access justice.  She hopes that the CEDAW Committee’s views in her case will help to highlight concrete measures that the State Party can adopt to eliminate wrongful gender stereotyping by the judiciary and other state institutions.

Finally, Ángela hopes that her case will help to highlight the significant gaps between Spain’s laws and the protections available to women in practice in respect of domestic and gender-based violence, including through the implementation of those laws by the judiciary and other state institutions.  In her opinion, real, prompt and effective protection for victims of domestic violence and her children is still lacking in Spain, in large part due to wrongful gender stereotyping. 

Status of proceedings

Ángela’s case was filed in September 2012.  Since then, the Spanish Government has submitted its observations on the admissibility and merits of the communication and Ángela has commented on those observations. 

Why did Women’s Link Worldwide take this case?

Women’s Link Worldwide is an international human rights non-profit organisation working to ensure that gender equality is a reality around the world.  With this aim, it strives to advance women’s rights through the implementation of international human rights standards and strategic work with courts, including strategic litigation.

Ángela’s communication to the CEDAW Committee is the first domestic violence case from Spain to be examined by an international body.  Women’s Link Worldwide became involved in the case because it wanted to assist Ángela in her pursuit of justice.  It also became involved in the case because it provides a unique opportunity to review and improve implementation of Spain’s domestic violence law (Protection Measures against Gender Violence Act), which although considered to be a robust law has not been implemented effectively in practice.  

Women’s Link Worldwide hopes that the provisions of CEDAW that require the Spanish Government to end discrimination against women will arm the CEDAW Committee well to make strong recommendations requiring structural changes that will help to prevent similar violations to those suffered by Ángela and her daughter Andrea.  Such recommendations could include directions on how to implement Spain’s current law on domestic violence at all levels (courts, social services, and police) in order to ensure that victim’s rights are guaranteed and a gender perspective is central to any considerations of domestic violence.

Women’s Link Worldwide also became involved in Ángela case because it is illustrative of the problems facing many women in Spain.  In other words, the facts of the case are not unique or isolated to Ángela and Andrea.  In Spain, just like in many other countries, there is a high incidence of violence against women and a lack of adequate responses by the authorities when women try to seek protection and remedies.  In 2004, specific legislation on domestic violence was adopted to ensure protections for victims of domestic violence, but implementation of these laws is greatly lacking.  Judges are reluctant to enforce these laws because of their own biases, regardless of the victim’s rights, and there is no mechanism holding them accountable to do so.  At the same time, the lack of judicial investigation leads to a high rate of cases that are dismissed.

Women’s Link Worldwide was also attracted to Ángela case because there is compelling evidence about the harms of judicial stereotyping.  The application of gender stereotypes by authorities, judges and courts is one of the most significant barriers for the elimination of gender discrimination in Spain and in other countries, and undermines women’s ability to access justice when their human rights are violated.  Judicial gender stereotyping is also one of the main obstacles for gender justice that Women’s Link Worldwide works to eliminate.

Violence against women, the absence of legal protections for the children of victims of domestic violence and judicial gender stereotyping are present in almost all countries in the world.  Women’s Link Worldwide invites the CEDAW Committee to consider Ángela’s communication as an opportunity to address some of these issues, with a view to having a global impact and furthering develop States Parties’ positive obligations to eliminate wrongful gender stereotyping in its domestic violence case-law.

Paloma Soria Montañez has a law degree from the University of Malaga, Spain and a Masters in International Solidarity Action in Europe from the University of Carlos III, Madrid, Spain. She is Senior Attorney and coordinator of the International Gender Crimes and Human Trafficking programs at the organization Women’s Link Worldwide, where she works from 2006.

Gema Fernández Rodríguez de Liévana graduated with a law degree from the University Complutense, Madrid and holds a postgraduate degree as part of the doctoral program ”International Relations: European Union and Globalization” from the same university. She works as a litigating attorney at Women’s Link in trafficking in persons, intersectional discrimination and sexual and reproductive rights.


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This post has been published with the permission of Ángela