Accessing Justice: Models, Strategies and Best Practices on Women’s Empowerment (IDLO, 2013)

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The law is an essential tool for advancing women’s and girls’ rights and equality. A robust and effective legal system based on the rule of law is central to assisting women to become equal partners in decision-making and development. Over the last couple of decades, the international community has invested substantially in programs aimed at strengthening the rule of law in developing countries. Despite this investment, the rule of law continues to mean very little for the vast majority of women and girls.

IDLO’s study Accessing Justice: Models, Strategies and Best Practices on Women’s Empowerment explores some of the challenges and solutions for women’s access to justice in diverse legal systems. It shows that women face structural and cultural barriers to accessing justice – insufficient knowledge of rights and remedies, illiteracy or poor literacy, and lack of resources or time to participate in justice processes. This is all the more so as women usually have intensive family responsibilities. Even where women can access the formal justice sector, the outcomes of the process often fall far short of those envisaged by international standards, particularly with regard to property rights, inheritance, divorce and child custody, and spousal abuse.

Focusing on legal empowerment as a way to improve both access to justice and the quality of justice women receive, the study presents strategies and best practices in both formal and informal justice systems. Legal empowerment approaches share one core concept: using the law to enable disadvantaged groups to access justice and realize basic rights. They include legal education; legal aid services; support for non-discriminatory disputeresolution fora to complement or supplement informal systems; training of paralegals; and rights awareness.

In considering whether such approaches can improve the quality of justice women receive, Accessing Justice brings together a number of IDLO-sponsored case studies in Afghanistan, India, Namibia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Tanzania, Morocco, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

These highlight a variety of lessons for development practitioners, both in terms of engagement with the informal legal sector and, more generally, for the use of legal empowerment and top-down / bottom-up strategies. In an
appropriate context, carefully designed legal empowerment strategies may constitute a valuable contribution to improving women’s access to justice.

The case studies also confirm that programs designed to address women’s rights in informal justice systems remain a highly sensitive issue. These programs require thorough knowledge of the social, economic, and political context in which the informal system is operating. Moreover, legal empowerment approaches in both the formal and informal justice sectors are likely to be more sustainable when a) they are locally owned; and b) when they
are coupled with top-down reforms to ensure domestic laws and regulations are in line with international legal standards on gender equality

About IDLO

The International Development Law Organization (IDLO) is an intergovernmental organization devoted to empowering people and enabling governments to reform laws and strengthen institutions to promote peace, justice, sustainable development and economic opportunity.

IDLO works along the spectrum from nation- and peace-building to economic recovery in countries emerging from conflict or striving towards democracy. It supports emerging economies and middle-income countries to strengthen their legal capacity and rule of law framework for sustainable development and economic opportunity

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