8 March 2013
Brussels/Geneva – On International Women’s Day, Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) calls for more efforts in bringing gender-sensitive laws into force. Effective access to justice will help women in fragile and post-conflict contexts claim their human rights thus improving their living conditions.
ASF’s experience has shown that while stakeholders, such as State authorities, officially express their commitment to gender equality through the law, little progress has been made in reality, affecting the ability of women around the world to realise their rights. The difficulties women face in accessing justice are numerous: lack of information about their rights, lack of financial resources to pay for legal assistance, inadequate public services, or fear for retaliation.
Thulesa*, living in Nepal, was beaten by her husband and kicked out of her house with her two children. “I filed a complaint with the police but nothing happened because my husband had friends there”, she explains. Following the advice of an acquaintance, she decided to seek the help of a lawyer. “I went to a legal clinic supported by ASF, where I received free legal aid. This allowed me to go to court”, she tells.
ASF’s work in fragile countries shows that when women can access justice, they are able to realise a wider range of their rights than the specific problem for which they sought help. In this case, Thulesa was able to not only seek damages and continued financial support for her children, she was also successful in stopping her husband’s threats and abuse.
But in order to get this decision, this woman, a victim of domestic violence, had to overcome numerous obstacles before becoming aware of her rights and of the existing legal and judicial mechanisms to exercise her rights. “We encounter many women with stories such as Thulesa’s. There are norms and guidelines meant to protect and defend women. But in addition to public awareness of these laws and rights, the bigger issue is about enforcing existing laws”, reports Shira Stanton, Economic and Social Rights Expert at ASF. “States must carry out their obligations in enforcing and implementing the law.”
In a contribution to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ASF urges States to make greater effort in translating norms into action that is directed toward all stakeholders in the legal chain: rights-holders, such as Thulesa, civil society, lawyers, customary leaders, and judicial stakeholders such as judges.
These comprehensive recommendations aimed to enrich CEDAW’s discussions on the elaboration of a General Recommendation on women’s access to justice. “This is not only an opportunity to share our experience and expertise in access to justice”, says Jean-Charles Paras, ASF’s Civil and Political Rights expert who attended the CEDAW meeting on women and access to justice in Geneva in February. “This recommendation will carry a lot of weight for States and their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill their human rights”.
The CEDAW is a body composed of 23 experts on women’s rights from around the world. It monitors the implementation of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
*Name changed for privacy purposes