Authors: Clementine Momas and Lauren Rooney
Illustration: UN Women/Lauren Rooney
Access to justice is both a right in itself and a means of protecting other rights. For the majority of women in Asia and the Pacific, however, justice remains out of reach. At the current rate of progress, it would take another 286 years for women to have the same legal rights and protections as men..
Civil society and women human rights defenders are at the forefront of supporting women’s access to justice. Leveraging their expertise, as well as the lived experiences of women seeking justice, is key to transforming justice systems so that they are gender-sensitive and people-centred, and leave no one behind.
UN Women is working with 25 justice organizations in Asia and the Pacific to accelerate action to close the gender justice gap in the region. So far, three consultations have taken place and they have collectively developed a vision for women’s access to justice, entitled Equal and fair justice for women, in all their diversity, by 2030.
Overview of gender justice
“Women around the world have reported experiencing a diversity of justice issues. They report non-family issues, including consumer rights, housing, debt and utilities, only slightly less frequently or to the same degree as men,” said Daniela Barba, director of research on access to justice for the World Justice Project, referring to their Global Insights on Access to Justice Survey.
The majority of women continue to seek help outside the legal system, with only 13% turning to an authority to solve a legal problem, and less than 40% of women who experience violence seek help in any form.
The negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s access to justice has been felt across the region. “The average number of days it takes for Fijian women to access justice fell from 868 to 1,003 days after the pandemic,” said Shivana Singh, activist and human rights training officer for the Women’s Rights Movement of the United States. Fiji. “Austerity measures and reduced public spending on social services have had a negative impact on access to justice,” said April Porteira, program officer (Feminist Development Justice) for the Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).
Intersectionality is a crucial element in achieving justice for all
The specific justice needs of women facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including Indigenous women, women with disabilities, and women and persons with sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics diversity, must be taken into account in order to achieve justice for women and justice for all in the region.
Amba Salelkar, Senior Technical Advisor, Capacity Building for the International Disability Alliance, highlighted the justice issues faced by women with disabilities. “They are more exposed to sexual violence and face disability-related violence. Higher costs, negative economic consequences, inaccessible infrastructure, lack of education and exclusion are some of the main barriers that women with disabilities face in accessing justice.
“In Bangladesh, national laws do not guarantee equality for people of diverse sexualities, which makes it more difficult for LGBTIQ+ people to access justice,” said Sadia Afrin Khan, Program Officer (Legal and Practical Feminist ) for the APWLD.
Strengthen regional collaboration to achieve justice for all women by 2030
Developing a collective regional vision for women’s access to justice, participants identified four key areas to ensure equal and fair justice for women, in all their diversity, by 2030:
- Strengthen gender-sensitive and people-centred justice,
- Adopt strategies to expand access and improve the quality of justice for women,
- Translate international women’s rights frameworks into local action, and
- Strengthen multi-stakeholder partnerships to promote gender justice.
The engagement of civil society and women human rights defenders is key to accelerating justice for women, justice for all in the region. These dialogues are organized within the framework of the regional programme, entitled “Improving Access to Justice for Women in Asia and the Pacific’, jointly implemented by UN Women, the International Commission of Jurists and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), with the generous support of the Government of Sweden. The program will continue to bring the groups together again in the coming months to further develop the common vision and strengthen regional cooperation.