Despite notable progress, more must be done to ensure justice for all women: UN report

10:47, July 07, 2011      

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Though important progress has been made to achieve justice for women worldwide, more still must be done, said the first major report launched Wednesday by the UN's new organization for gender equality and women's empowerment.

The flagship UN Women report titled Progress of the World's Women: In Pursuit of Justice reviews women's rights around the world, using the theme of access to justice.

"As the report documents, in every region law still discriminates against women and even when we have laws in place there are vast implementation gaps," said Michelle Bachelet, under- secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, who addressed the press at the launch.

"Meanwhile the institutions of justice, the police, the courts, and the legal aid system too often fail to meet women's needs," she said.

Bachelet explained that Progress of the World's Women is designed to not only take stock of progress on the rights of women, but to urge further action as well.

"It aims to inspire bold action by governments and civil society to meet their commitments and also accelerate the achievements of women's rights worldwide," she said.

The theme of justice was chosen because of its importance to achieving gender equality, noted Bachelet.

"This stems from the recognition that laws and justice systems that work well are the foundation of gender equality," she said. " Although the rule of law is a cherished principle, and you could say, a cornerstone of democratic governance worldwide, in too many countries still the rule of law rules women out."

Unity Dow, a former judge and human rights activist from Botswana who also spoke at the launch said that in her view the report deals with justice for women through safety in their homes, in the streets, and at their places of work.

"Therefore it is a responsibility of governments to make sure that there are systems that ensure the safety and when it is breached, the system then responds to that," she said.

The report found that women are not always safe at home -- 603 million women and girls live in countries where specific legal protection from domestic violence does not exist.

Though 117 countries have laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, the report said that 311 million working age women lack this protection.

"Where I come from in Botswana for example, we do not have a law on sexual harassment," Dow said. "That means that you have a work environment that might not be safe for women."

Injustice in the area of the economy also remains an issue for women worldwide, the report explained. Although at least 117 countries have laws that are designed to guarantee equal pay, men are still paid 10 to 30 percent more across regions and sectors, it said.

The report offers some important recommendations for bringing justice to women, as well as examples of how many countries have boosted justice and equality.

Laura Turquet, lead author of Progress of the World's Women, told reporters at the launch that some countries are increasing justice for women by making it simpler to access.

"It's quite striking that in a large range of countries the conviction rate for reported rapes is very low because cases drop out of the justice chain before they reach court," she said. "With barriers to justice at every stage, joining up services increases women's access to justice. The fewer steps a woman has to take the more likely she is to pursue justice."

She said that countries like South Africa have put police, forensics, healthcare, and legal advice under one roof, as a "one- stop" method of helping women that have experienced sexual violence, resulting in less attrition of women's cases from the justice system.

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