"Peace and justice cannot exist without a full realization of women's rights," The Hague Deputy Mayor Ingrid K. van Engelshoven told fellow panelists at a roundtable in the city. There was an ever-present need for what she called a 'gender lens'.
Organized by IDLO to coincide with International Women's day, the roundtable -- 'Making Law and Justice Work for Women' -- brought together practitioners, policy makers and experts from both the developed and developing worlds. Joining the Dutch hosts to discuss women's access to justice were a Balkan ambassador, a leading lawyer and an activist photographer (both from South Asia), a legal advisor to the International Criminal Court, an African women’s advocate, and a gender expert from IDLO’s field operation in Afghanistan.
"The success of legal empowerment strategies depends on the institutions that support them," said Thoko Matshe, who has a long record of defending women's rights and democratic freedoms in her native Zimbabwe. But she warned that 'religious and cultural fundamentalism makes things worse, shrinking the space for women to enjoy their rights'.
There was widespread agreement on the need for any women-focused rule of law interventions to be context-specific and locally owned - or risk failure. "Women', IDLO Director-General Irene Khan reminded the audience, "are not a homogenous group." But social and developmental change, she concluded, could only come from women's agency and participation.