Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice
Author: UN Women
Access full text: available online
This report explores how justice systems can be made to work for women. Where laws and justice systems work well, they can provide an essential mechanism for women to realise their human rights. However, laws and justice systems that reinforce unequal power relations must be transformed in order to fulfil the potential they hold for accelerating progress towards gender equality. Women themselves, as legislators, lawyers, judges, paralegals and community activists are often at the forefront of transformation efforts.
For most of the world's women, the laws that exist on paper do not always translate into equality and justice. In many contexts, the police, courts and the judiciary are failing women. As a result, inadequate laws, poor enforcement and vast implementation gaps make constitutional guarantees of equality hollow promises.
There are two areas in which women's rights are least protected and where the rule of law is weakest. First are women's rights in the private and domestic sphere, including their rights to live free from violence and to make decisions about their sexuality, on marriage and reproductive health. Second are women's economic rights, including the right to decent work and the right to inherit and control land and other productive resources. There are challenges at every stage, including:
- Legal frameworks where laws overtly discriminate against women, often limiting women's rights within the family
- The justice chain – the steps that a women has to take to access formal justice systems – often breaks down due to a lack of capacity or discriminatory attitudes among service providers.
- In the criminal justice system, high levels of under-reporting and attrition are indicative of a system that is failing women.
- Family laws on marriage and inheritance are likely to be subject to plural legal (customary or non-state) provisions and sometimes contain elements of discrimination against women.
- Rule of law weaknesses in conflict and post-conflict settings have severe consequences for women, particularly with regards to sexual violence, which often spills over from conflict into peacetime.
Law and justice systems must be made to work for women to overcome the inequality, violence and lack of choices that they face. Recommended actions include:
- Ensuring governmental responsibility for the impact of the law, which is essential to combat failures in the implementation of laws that should otherwise guarantee equal rights for women.
- Improving women's access to justice through guaranteed legal aid, thus ensuring that they enter the justice system with sufficient support and knowledge of court processes.
- Investing in women service providers and specialised courts, including mobile, domestic violence and family courts.
- Making customary law subject to constitutional equality guarantees, enabling women to challenge discriminatory aspects of these laws.
- Ensuring that women can participate in defining and delivering justice in plural legal contexts, with the support of government and by working in partnership with local women's organisations.
- Ensuring that women can access justice during conflict and post-conflict situations by increasing the priority given to gender-based crimes. At the same time, truth commissions should be gender-sensitive, with women's participation at all levels.
Access full text: available online
UN Women, 2011, 'Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice', UN Women, New York