Fear of deportation prevents many migrant women in Belgium from seeking necessary protection from domestic violence, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said in a report [text, PDF] released Friday. The 57-page report, entitled "'The Law was Against Me': Migrant Women's Access to Protection for Family Violence in Belgium," found that women who immigrate to Belgium to join their spouse or partner are at risk of deportation if they report domestic violence while their residence status is being confirmed. The HRW report stated that Belgium's laws do not "protect family migrant women who flee violence when their application for family reunification is still being processed, or women whose violent spouse left the country after they sought help. Undocumented migrant women are also unable to benefit from the law." Additionally, HRW claims that these victims of domestic violence, especially those who remain undocumented, have inadequate access to shelters, limiting their ability to escape their abusers. According to the report, "the fear that reporting violence and leaving a partner may jeopardize immigration status means that migrant women who experience violence at the hand of their partners may choose to endure the abuse until they have a more secure legal status." Belgium has signed, but has not yet ratified, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence [text], which requires countries to ensure the protection of all women regardless of migrant status.
Discrimination and violence against women continues to be a global issue. In October the UN Working Group on discrimination against women [official website] urged governments around the world to repeal laws that criminalize adultery [JURIST report]. In September HRW urged Bangladesh to reform [JURIST report] their discriminatory personal laws governing marriage, separation and divorce. In June HRW called on the Sudanese government [JURIST report] to reform its discriminatory laws and abolish both the death penalty and all corporal punishment after a young Sudanese woman was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery. In March HRW urged the Afghan government [JURIST report] to release about 400 women and girls who were imprisoned for "moral crimes," including flight from unlawful forced marriage or domestic violence in addition to "zina," which is a sexual relationship outside of marriage due to rape or forced prostitution. In July 2011 UN Women [official website] released a report examining the persistent discrimination against women [JURIST report] around the world and concluded that the rule of law does not provide adequate protection for women in practice. A month earlier a UN Special Rapporteur stated that even the US is facing continued violence against women [JURIST report], especially poor, minority and immigrant women. In May 2011 the Council of Europe (COE) [official website] introduced [JURIST report] the first international convention to combat violence against women. In the same month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged Tunisia and Egypt [JURIST report] to ensure that women's rights receive constitutional protection.