Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls

Despite some progress, manylegal systems across the world continue to hinder the advancement of women rather than promote gender equality.

The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2016 report highlighted that 90 percent of the 173 economies surveyed still have discriminatory laws across a range of areas, from traveling outside the home, opening a bank account, registering a business and owning property, to accessing protection from violence. In some countries, the law gives only husbands the right to administer joint marital property or to represent and make decisions for the household.

Far too often, justice – whether through formal, informal or hybrid systems – remains inaccessible for women, who are unable to avail themselves of courts or get fair justice outcomes due to costs, illiteracy, distance, limited social support, stereotypes or even violence. There continues to be little investment in redress mechanisms that support women’s justice needs, such as family courts, small claims tribunals, and special mechanisms to investigate and prosecute gender- based violence. Most justice reform programs tend not to engage with informal or quasi-formal institutions, despite the fact that women heavily use these institutions and are often discriminated against by them.

These challenges are exacerbated in situations of conflict and fragility, where legal and judicial mechanisms for the protection of women’s rights are at heightened risk of being eroded or delegitimized, and legal and justice actors may have limited capacity, political will or powerto usher real change for women.

The 2030 Agenda puts both gender equality and the rule of law at the heart of development, underscoring the important synergies between SDG 16 and SDG 5, their complementarity and mutually reinforcing nature.

Gender-focused programs launched in 2015

  • Burundi: Research on the Effect of Land Tenure Registration on Land Disputes and Women’s Land Rights. IDLO has been tasked to research the impact of community-based Land Tenure Registration (LTR) processes, carried out by the NGO ZOA, on land dispute levels, and ways to safeguard and strengthen women’s customary rights to land in the LTR process. The project will last 17 months and was funded by Stichting ZOA for EUR 78,109.
  • Liberia: Promoting Increased Accountability for Sexual and Gender-Based violence. This program, funded by the US Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) for USD 2,000,000 seeks to support the promotion of increased accountability for sexual and gender-based violence crimes in Liberia. The program duration is two years.
  • Mongolia: Combating Gender-Based violence in Mongolia: Strengthening Justice Sector Capacity. This INL-funded, one-year program aims to promote Mongolian responses to domestic violence through enhancing coordination of relevant service providers and strengthening their capacities. The program budget is USD 399,077.
  • Tunisia: Supporting Women Justice Professionals in Delivering Justice for Women. Funded by the Government of Italy for EUR 149,944, this 15-month program seeks to support the effective participation of women justice professionals in gender-responsive justice delivery and law and policy making in Tunisia. 

A robust and effective legal system based on the rule of law is essential to advancing gender equality and enabling the empowerment of women and girls. At the same time, gender equality is also important to the rule of law, as integrating a gender perspective in the creation or strengthening of legal frameworks helps foster the emergence of inclusive, equitable and accountable institutions that are responsive to the needs of the wider population.

Against this backdrop, and recognizing that strengthened integration of gender in all areas of work is necessary and essential to achieve IDLO’s vision, mission, strategic aim and goals, in 2015 we launched our Gender Strategy (2015- 2016). The strategy aims to ensure that our work effectively contributes to gender equality and fair justice outcomes for women, and focuses on three substantive areas: (a) combating discriminatory laws and ensuring the emergence of gender- responsive legal and institutional frameworks; (b) enhancing women’s access to justice in formal and informal institutions; and (c) increasing women’s empowerment in sustainable development and economic opportunities, such as on food security and land and natural resources.

In all these efforts, we strive to promote the effective participation of women, as a key element to improve the quality of legal protection and justice women and girls receive, and to make the development agenda truly transformative.

In 2015, IDLO worked to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in Afghanistan, Honduras, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda, with new programs launched in Burundi, Liberia, Mongolia, and Tunisia.

Rea Abada Chiongson, IDLO senior gender Advisor