Source: The Citizen
The past century has seen an appealing   transformation in women’s legal rights, with countries all over the world expanding scope of women’s legal entitlements.

However, for millions of women worldwide, the laws that exist on paper do not translate into equality and justice.
Despite the progress, discriminatory laws and critical gaps in legal frameworks remain a problem in every region.
Moreover, governments are responsible for providing a functioning and accessible justice system, but too often, they fall short, with major institutional barriers denying women access to justice.

UN Women, the newly established United Nations Entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women recently released its biannual flagship report, ‘Progress for the World’s Women in Pursuit of Justice 2011.’

This landmark report focuses on women’s pursuit of justice and it recognises the positive progress made all over the world, for instance about 139 countries and territories, now guarantee gender equality in their constitutions.
The report highlights the ways in which governments and civil societies are working together to reform laws and create new models for justice service delivery that meets women’s need.

They have risen to the challenge of ensuring that women can access justice in the most challenging situations, including after conflict and in the context of legal pluralism.

Women themselves play a central role as agents for change, as legislators, judges, lawyers, campaigners and community activists.

In the report, the UN Women executive director, Ms Michelle Bachelet said: “The progress of the world’s women remind us of the remarkable advance that have been made over the past century in the quest for gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

She said that even within one generation they have witnessed transformation in women’s legal rights, which means that today 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence, 115 guarantee equal property rights and women’s voice in decision-making is stronger than ever before.

“Today, 28 countries have reached or surpassed the 30 per cent mark for women’s representation in parliament, putting women in the driving seat to forge further change,” she said.

Increase in women’s representation in parliaments worldwide has often been followed by legal reform to expand women’s rights and access to justice.

The report shows that among the countries which women’s representation in parliaments has increased, Rwanda is the first country which has more than 51 per cent  who are representatives in the parliament followed by Costa Rica, Spain and Nepal.

Tanzania is sixth positioned with about 31 per cent of women representation in its parliament after the republic of Macedonia which stands at the fifth position.

In every region of the world, there has been a significant progress on legal reform to expand the scope of women’s rights.

Women all over the world have used the courts to bring precedent-setting cases that have resulted in law reform to benefit millions of others.

“The progress of the world’s women 2011/2012: in pursuit of justice shows that where laws and justice systems work well they can provide an essential mechanism for women to realize their human rights,” she said.

Where the law works for women it can advance gender equality and improve women’s access to justice.
However, it also underscores the fact that, despite widespread guarantees of equality, the reality for many millions of women is that justice remains out of reach.

To make the justice system work for women, governments, policymakers and international organisations need a broader perspective that recognises the interplay of multiple legal systems, their relation to power and the way that people navigate them.

The speaker of Tanzania’s parliament Ms Anne Makinda who launched the report, said that the report indicates a lot of work remains to be done for all too often women and girls continue to experience injustice, violence and inequality in their home and working places  and face multiple challenges in accessing justice.

“The launch of this report in Tanzania is aimed at drawing attention to issue of access to justice for women and girls, and promote a dialogue on possible ways forward to accelerate efforts that address this problem,” she said.
She said these cases have been used to change national laws, demand enforcement of existing laws, strike down discriminatory customary laws and revolutionise the scope of international law.

The report identifies some of the most important legal cases over the past 30 years that have changed the landscape for women’s rights.

Making the justice system work for women-whether through catalysing legal reform, or supporting legal aid, one stop shops and training for judges requires investment.

Recognising the importance of strengthening the rule of law, governments spend a significant amount on legal and judicial development and human rights. However, targeted funding for gender equality has remained low.
In 2009, development assistance committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD-DAC) donors allocated $4.2 billion to justice, with  US and European Union accounting for 70 per cent of the total.

Out of the total amount $206 million equal to five per cent, was allocated to programmes, for which gender equality was the primary aim. $633 million, equal to 15 per cent was allocated to programmes for which gender equality was a secondary aim.

Over the decade from 2000 to 2010, according to the World Bank project database, the bank has allocated $874 billion to 6382 grants and loans of which $126 billion, equal to 14 per cent was allocated to public administration, law and justice.

In December 2010 the World Bank concluded the process of replenishing the International Development Association (IDA) fund, with 51 donors pledging $49.3 billion to support the poorest countries between 2011 and 2014.In the past 50 years, more than half of the world’s constitutions have been reformed or redrafted



Human rights activists, mostly women display banner during a demonstration to mark the 63th anniversary of World Human Rights Day organised by Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC). PHOTO|MICHAEL JAMSON

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