"Women who refuse to stay silent in the face of injustice, who persist in spite of overwhelming obstacles to use all legal avenues available in pursuit of their cause, these women have changed the world."
A new UN report has just been released reporting on women's access to justice in over 190 countries. The report begins by reminding readers that in 1911, only 2 countries allowed women to vote. This has since changed and women's voting rights are almost universal. The report, however, also includes evidence that 125 countries have laws in place outlawing "domestic violence." However, this leaves 66 participating countries without protections against such violence.
In my opinion, one of the most interesting facets of the report was the inclusion of how different women define and understand the concept of justice. A woman from Uganda described the barriers faced when seeking justice. In order to report violence to the police, it would be her responsibility to raise money to fuel and hire a boat. Otherwise, no one will take you. She stated, "They always protect their fellow rich and powerful" when describing how boat owners refuse to help. Sounds a bit like an "old boys club." Statements from other women also brought known concepts to the forefront. Women described the need for accountability and the feeling of revictimization. Needless to say, justice means many things and it seemed most often that women were easily able to define justice by describing the injustices they experienced.
A fantastic component of this newly released report was the inclusion of case examples where women have taken a stand against various injustices in their communities. These cases included gains in the areas of marital rape, the right to be free from sexual harassment at work, reproductive rights, domestic violence legislation and enforcement, inheritance laws, and so much more. Read further about these gains (and others) by clicking here. It seems unfathomable that women must still fight for the right to be heard, respected, and protected; yet, in many countries this seems to be the norm. The women in these cases refuse to stay silent and experience injustice any longer.
When thinking about where we have to go from here, think about these numbers:
173 countries guarantee paid maternity leave
139 constitutions guarantee gender equality
125 countries outlaw domestic violence
117 countries outlaw sexual harassment (This is an improvement; however, it excludes all of women working behind closed doors as domestic labor.)
117 countries have equal pay laws
115 countries guarantee women's equal property rights
Just a reminder, the report includes over 190 countries. These numbers are drastic improvements made over the last 30 years. My question, however, remains, where are all of the other countries in these numbers? Only 117 countries outlaw sexual harassment? Seems we have a long way to go still. So, what does the report suggest we can do?
The report provides 10 approaches for making justice systems work for women. These include:
1) Support women's legal organizations
2) Support one-stop shops and specialized services to reduce attrition in the justice chain
3) Implement gender-sensitive law reform
*Action is needed to repeal laws that explicitly discriminate against women; to extend the rule of law to protect women in the private domain, including from domestic violence; and to address the actual impact of laws on women’s lives.
4) Use quotas to boost the number of women legislators
5) Put women on the front line of law enforcement
*Data show that there is a correlation between the presence of women police officers and reporting of sexual assault.
6) Train judges and monitor decisions
7) Increase women's acceSs to to courts and truth commissions in conflict and post-conflict contexts
8) Implement gender-responsive reparations programs
*Reparations are the most victim-focused justice mechanism and can be a critical vehicle for women’s recovery post-conflict. Reparations programmes must take account of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and include individual, community and symbolic measures, as well as access to services and land restitution.
9) Invest in women's access to justice
10) Put gender equality at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals
To read more about these approaches for making change, go here.