TOWARD EQUALITY AS A NORM

February 24, 2013 | By More

“The key message of the study is that by empowering women to claim their rights, women
are better equipped to bring about change in their communities,” Shirin Ebadi, a human rights
lawyer and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said in her foreword to the report.

“The present study highlights the critical role legal empowerment strategies can play in
changing and challenging oppressive gender relations that are justified under the name of
culture.”

Legal empowerment strategies can improve women’s access to justice in both formal and
informal systems, creating a “culture of justice” among women where equality and non-
discrimination become expected norms, according to the report.

Such strategies range from the provision of literacy education, rights awareness and legal aid
services, to the training of paralegals and support for non-discriminatory alternative dispute
mechanisms to complement or supplement informal justice systems.

BARRIERS AT EVERY STAGE

To illustrate the various legal challenges women face in formal and informal justice systems,
the report offers case studies from Africa, Asia and the South Pacific, and the strategies used to
address the following issues:

– The social stigma and legal discrimination encountered by unwed mothers trying to obtain
official identity papers for their children from the state legal system in Morocco;

– The problems faced by Rwandan widows and divorcees trying to exercise their land rights in
rural areas where customary law holds sway;

– The pervasiveness of violence against women in Afghanistan and lack of enforcement of laws
against it due to cultural norms;

– Widespread trafficking of girls and women in India despite laws against it and lack of
prosecution for traffickers.

The reasons women find it difficult to access justice go beyond simple ignorance of their rights.

“Political, social, cultural, economic and psychological barriers that obstruct women’s access to
justice and legal empowerment are found at every stage of the ‘justice chain’,” the report said.
These barriers include illiteracy, lack of resources and time to travel to and participate in legal
proceedings, family pressure, entrenched gender discrimination, poverty, fear of violence and
discomfort in dealing with state legal structures.

Despite these obstacles, the report concludes that “while legal empowerment is not the
panacea to the wider problems of inequality, discrimination and the poverty of women, it can
make a positive contribution, which, if properly integrated with other initiatives, will place
women on a better trajectory towards effectively addressing discriminatory practices.”

Category: Women Rights

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