(UK), July 06, 2011
the world's working women are without basic legal rights, says
More than half
of working women in the world, 600 million, are trapped in insecure
jobs without legal protection, according to the first report of
the new agency UN Women. A similar number do not have even basic
protection against domestic violence, it finds, while sexual assault
has become a hallmark of modern conflict.
the executive director of UN Women, said the document showed that
many millions of women had no access to justice.
reminds us of the remarkable advances that have been made over
the past century in the quest for gender equality and women's
empowerment," she said. "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."
of women in both rich and poor countries, the search for justice
is fraught with difficulty and is often expensive; laws and legal
systems frequently discriminate against them. In Cambodia, for
example, the forensic test necessary to lay a rape charge costs
two weeks' wages, while in Kenya a land claim in an inheritance
case can cost $800 and extend across 17 different administrative
the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice is a comprehensive survey
of women's access to justice across the globe. The report offers
10 recommendations to overcome the paradox that while huge improvements
have been made in the legal position of women over the last century,
there is still a dramatic lag in translating that into equality
127 countries do not have effective laws on marital rape, and
attrition rates in cases brought by women are high, ensuring that
only a fraction of reported rapes result in conviction. The report
cites one 2009 European study which found that, on average, only
14% of reported rapes ended in a conviction.
The first of
the 10 recommendations is providing support for women's legal
organisations, which often step into the gaps left by inadequate
legal aid systems. In a number of countries, women's groups have
been at the forefront of cases that have led to laws being repealed,
or new laws created, with a positive impact on women's lives.
In Nepal, for example, the supreme court ordered parliament to
amend the rape law in 2002 to allow prosecutions for marital rape
after a case brought by the Forum for Women, Law and Development.
In Indonesia, a local NGO has trained community-based paralegals
to support women to use the religious courts to get the marriage
and divorce certificates they need to claim benefits.
include further legal reform to ensure paid maternity leave, equal
pay and equal property rights, support for services to deal with
crimes such as rape, and an increase in the recruitment of women
into the police.
The report highlights
best practice around the world, arguing that change can be achieved
with innovative policy. Nepal, for instance, has trebled female
land ownership in the last decade by offering tax exemptions to
drive the adoption of new inheritance laws. In Sweden, the introduction
of "daddy leave" - reserved time off for fathers - has
helped narrow the pay gap. And in South Africa, the Thuthuzela
rape care centres have integrated medical treatment, counselling
and court preparation - the conviction rate in cases dealt with
by one Soweto centre reached 89%, against a national average of
The report offers
a clear indication of some of the areas that UN Women, which started
work in January, is keen to prioritise. But the new agency is
struggling to raise the funding it needs. Only $104m (£65m)
has been pledged towards its target of $500m. Pressure groups
are warning that the shortfall is jeopardising the success of
Gender has been
identified as a priority issue by many donor agencies, but the
report points out how little funding has gone into women's legal
rights. Of the $874bn spent by the World Bank in the last 10 years,
$126bn went into public administration, law and justice systems,
but only $7.3m on programmes aimed at gender equality. Now that
gender has been designated as one of four priority areas for the
World Bank up to 2014, there is a real need to invest in improving
justice for women.
in the report include better training for judges to challenge
the notion that women's behaviour may contribute to rape, and
using quotas to increase the number of female legislators. Of
the 28 countries that have more than 30% female representation
in parliament, 23 have used quotas. Looking in detail at six of
those countries, there was a clear link between increased female
representation and the passage of laws to strengthen women's rights.
Given how sexual
violence is used in conflict, the report says more effort needs
to be made to increase women's access to courts and truth commissions.
The report recognises that significant advances in international
law have made it possible to prosecute sexual violence crimes.
But courts now need to prioritise gender-based crimes in prosecution
Women have a
crucial role to play in peacebuilding, but the report argues that
more attention needs to be paid to post-conflict justice mechanisms,
such as reparations. It points to Sierra Leone, where a programme
is helping female survivors of sexual violence, providing loans
and skills training to set up businesses.
charity VSO described the report as a "wake-up call"
to world leaders. "In many countries there are still too
many gaps in the law, which leave women without adequate protection,"
said Kathy Peach, head of external affairs at VSO UK. "For
others, the laws are barely worth the paper they are written on."
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