Justice systems: working for women?

by Kate Donald

The first major report from new body UN Women, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice has been launched. The Progress reports (formerly produced by UNIFEM) are UN Women’s biennial global assessment of progress towards gender equality.

Undoubtedly, this year’s subject matter is of great importance. Access to justice, effective methods of redress and accountability mechanisms are preconditions for the full enjoyment of human rights. Unfortunately the justice system, which should be a key site for women to claim their rights, is often instead a sphere in which they face further marginalisation and discrimination. For those who don’t have time to read the full report, The Guardian has extracted some key statistics.

For example:
• 139 constitutions guarantee gender equality, 117 countries have equal pay laws, and 115 countries guarantee women's equal property rights
• globally, 53% of working women are in vulnerable employment and women are paid up to 30% less than men in some countries
• 125 countries outlaw domestic violence, but 127 countries do not explicitly criminalise rape within marriage
• around the world, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime and more than 2.6 billion live in countries where marital rape is not a criminal offence
• 61 countries severely restrict women's rights to abortion
• 50 countries have a lower legal age of marriage for women than for men
• Rwanda has the highest share of women in parliament (51%), followed by Sweden (45%). In the UK, only 21% of parliamentarians are women, and in the US that figure is down to 17%

The report also includes a chapter on Legal Pluralism, noting the importance of informal or non-state legal orders which are an important battleground for women struggling to claim their rights at the confluence of law, culture, ethnicity and tradition in many societies. UN Women drew on the research and findings of the ICHRP’s work on legal pluralism in the development of the report.

Further readings:

When Legal Worlds Overlap: Human Rights, State and Non-State Law

About the Author:

Kate Donald is Research Fellow at the International Council on Human Rights Policy. She works on the ICHRP project on sexuality, health and human rights.

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