International Development Law Organization

Activist calls for holistic application of the rule of law

In 1996, Lesley Ann Foster set up a women’s support centre in South Africa, where incidents of violence against women and girls remain one of the highest in the world, despite human rights laws passed by the government.

Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre initially provided counselling support to women and girls from marginalised communities in the Eastern Cape, where the centre is based. However, the problem of gender-based violence proved to be so immense, and the responses from the criminal justice system so weak, that Masimanyane soon found itself drawn into providing paralegal support and engaging in a broad range of advocacy and public education initiatives.

Lesley Ann addressed delegates at the IDLO conference today under the theme: gender and access to justice. “Women’s experiences are multi-layered and require a deeper analysis than looking at individual experiences. A holistic human rights approach is needed, an indivisibility and interdependence approach to show violations in a broader context,” she said.

In her remarks, she also spoke about traditional justice, which she said was rooted in the context of male privilege and requires women’s oppression to thrive. “This does not lead to the empowerment of women and impacts on a range of developmental factors including economic, health, educational indicators etc.

“Women’s rights advocates hold the view that a holistic, intersectional application of the rule of law can lift women out of poverty and doing that improves the lives of entire families and communities.”

Application of the rule of law must not be a top down or elusive mechanism, but one that is entrenched in the psyche of individuals and society as a whole. Only then would the SGDs or Agenda 2063 have the chance to succeed, she said.