Priority Action 7: Enhance justice for women and girls
Described by UN Women as “the shadow pandemic” of the COVID-19 crisis, gender-based violence presents one of the most pressing justice challenges affecting women and girls worldwide. This is so partly because of the sheer magnitude of the problem – 35% of women globally have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime – but more importantly because of the endemic impunity that characterizes the response of many justice systems to GBV.
Access to justice and support services for survivors of gender-based violence are being heavily restricted due to the pandemic. Some survivors report being unable to seek legal redress against their perpetrators due to court closures and forensic doctors being unable or unwilling to document physical abuse of survivors at police stations for fear of COVID-19 spread. Others are unable to seek social support through the regular channels, due to restrictions on movement or the overburdening of healthcare providers, civil society groups, and shelters. Furthermore, systemic racism, discrimination, and stigma can compound legal and logistical barriers to access such services among marginalized groups in crisis situations.
Globally, over 2.5 billion women and girls are negatively impacted by discriminatory laws. In many countries, women are still not guaranteed the same rights and legal privileges as men and lack legal protection against gender-based violence. The urgency of reform has been laid bare by the pandemic, whose fallout has shown just how deeply gender inequality remains embedded in many of the world’s legal regimes.
Justice institutions must adapt to ensure that women can access services. Accessible and cost-effective alternatives such as ADR or customary and informal justice should be offered, and women should have equal participation in the justice sector. Efforts should be made to continue parliamentary business related to repealing discriminatory laws, with emphasis on prioritizing those which can worsen the already precarious situation of women and girls as a result of the pandemic. Now more than ever, it is imperative for justice institutions and the law to address the needs of women and girls and deliver people-centered justice.
Preventing and responding to gender-based violence during the COVID-19 pandemic
Justice for women cannot be achieved unless justice institutions are systematically reformed to deliver gender-responsive justice. In this vein, IDLO has been working with a broad range of justice institutions in Afghanistan, Honduras, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Somalia, Tanzania, Tunisia and Uganda, building their capacity to respond to women’s justice needs – from gender-based violence, land and property rights, health rights, entrepreneurship, family law, among others.
Such work gained unprecedented importance in the context of the pandemic. As of May 2020, IDLO and its partners predicted that 2.73 billion women around the world were subject to stay-at-home orders, heightening the risk of intimate partner violence. In response, IDLO launched a program of work responding the reported increases in GBV, as part of its COVID-19 response.
For example, in Mongolia, IDLO initiated cooperation with the National Center Against Violence to conduct training for domestic violence hotline operators. IDLO additionally developed posters for the center to display through the country in public places and on transport, raising legal awareness on domestic violence and COVID-19. The project’s Facebook page is regularly updated with information about domestic violence services available during measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, reaching its 18,000 followers.
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Equality in law for women and girls by 2030
IDLO has also partnered with UN Women, including to implement Equality in Law for Women and Girls by 2030: A Multi-stakeholder Strategy for Accelerated Action (Equality in Law Strategy). The Equality in Law Strategy aims to fast-track the repeal of discriminatory laws in six thematic areas in 100 countries by 2023 and is expected to address the local needs of over 50 million women and girls. In support of this, IDLO has been conducting gender audits of national laws (in the Philippines, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Mali), supporting the design of roadmaps to guide the reform process, engaging in policy dialogue and building legal drafting capacity for gender-sensitive legal reform.
Although progress has been achieved in the development of GBV laws and policies worldwide, legal gaps remain, and implementation has been uneven. To address this, IDLO supports legal and justice actors to tackle these challenges by advising on laws, policies and the establishment of specialized institutions.
In Kenya, IDLO supported the State Department for Gender Affairs to establish an inter-agency committee as a framework to create state-owned GBV recovery centers in 5 hospitals across all 47 counties. As a result, these centers have started providing free medical services to GBV survivors, linking with police to secure the chain of evidence, and developing a comprehensive database of GBV cases which informs future policy planning and prevention strategies.
In Tunisia, IDLO supported the development of a legislative reform agenda on gender equality and GBV. Initiatives included the adoption of a manual of procedure for women’s shelters through a consultative and technical process, as well as support for the Ministry of Women, Family and Childhood, other state actors and women’s organizations in legal drafting. IDLO’s manual of procedure was adopted in August 2020 and is expected to provide concrete guidelines for ensuring women-centered services in shelters.
IDLO’s experience in these and other countries has illustrated the inextricable relationship between social norms and regulatory policy, and the capacity of the law to be an instrument of social change.
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