|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference to Launch Report ‘Progress of the World’s Women:
in Pursuit of Justice’
Despite being a cornerstone of democratic governance, the rule of law still “rules women out” in too many countries around the world, Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, said at a Headquarters press conference today as she launched the first edition of the gender entity’s flagship report, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice.
“In every region, laws still discriminate against women,” Ms. Bachelet said during her introduction to the report, which, by assessing advances towards gender equality, aims to inspire Governments and civil society to bold action in meeting their commitments and accelerating the achievement of women’s rights worldwide.
Accompanied by Unity Dow, Botswana’s first female judge, and Laura Turquet, the report’s lead author, she stressed that vast implementation gaps existed even where laws were in place. Nonetheless, laws had the power to change societies by creating new norms and shaping attitudes and practices. Justice systems could also provide the means for women to demand accountability, end violence in personal relationships, claim citizenship, marry and divorce on terms equal to men, and claim pay and inheritance rights to which they were entitled.
In that context, the report’s comprehensive legislative review indicated that legal frameworks around the world had been transformed over time, she said. Among other things, two thirds of the world’s countries had enacted laws against domestic violence, which represented a remarkable shift from even 10 years ago. At the same time, however, the report suggested that legislation was merely a first step, and must be followed by effective implementation.
To that end, the report contained proven and achievable recommendations that cut across all UN Women strategy priorities, she said. Building on the work of all the agency’s partners, it also provided direction on putting laws in place to end violence against women, making justice systems work for women and ensuring that their voices were heard by decision-makers, securing access to work and land, and delivering transformative justice in the aftermath of conflict.
“The rule of law requires that the police and the courts apply the law fairly and without bias,” Ms. Bachelet said, underscoring the report’s summary of innovative approaches by Governments and civil society to ensure that justice systems worked for women. Putting women on the front lines of the law made a difference, and the report showed an increase in reporting on sexual assault in countries with more women police officers. Where there was greater participation by women in political decision-making, progressive laws on labour rights or health care and other social issues often resulted, she added.
Building on those examples, Judge Dow said the report’s three main pieces touched on the pursuit of justice within the home, on the streets and in work environments. When talking about safe homes, safe streets and safe work environments, Governments must realize, first, that safety did not always exist and, second, that it was the State’s responsibility to ensure that it did. The report also addressed how justice systems could reward merit and ability without gender discrimination, she said. It further suggested that women must not be punished because they are women, and advocated for the reform of laws that were obviously discriminatory, such as those relating to maternity benefits.
Pointing to lessons learned during her 30-year legal career, she stressed that attaining justice for women meant devising systems that would ensure that little girls and boys could dream big dreams and pursue them, irrespective of their gender. “We will know that we’re getting there not when we count the number of women we put on the moon, but rather when we count the number of men… who believe that raising the next generation is just as important as getting to the moon.”
Ms. Turquet, further highlighting the report’s recommendations, said that in countries without domestic-violence laws, people were more than twice as likely to think that violence was sometimes acceptable. The change required was not automatic, but Governments could take several keys steps towards making the implementation of laws more likely, she said. In Nepal, for example, legal reform on women’s inheritance rights had had little impact until the Government’s introduction of tax exemptions for transferring land to women. The number of women controlling land had subsequently increased three-fold, she said.
In Sweden, meanwhile, men’s paternity rights had been under-utilized until the creation of non-transferable “daddy months”, she said. “This is good for men and it’s good for children, but it’s also very good for women,” she added, citing studies that indicated smaller gender pay gap where men did more caring work within the home. The report also recommended that justice systems be tailored specifically to meet women’s needs, she said, stressing, in that regard, that “one-stop shops” had proven to be a low-cost approach to reducing attrition in the justice chain. For example, care centres housed in local South African hospitals brought together the police, forensic services, health-care providers and legal advisers under one roof, and dealt with an estimated 20 per cent of all sexual-violence victims in the country. Moreover, conviction rates in cases handled by the centres had reached 89 per cent from a national average of just 7 per cent.
Asked how UN Women would follow up on the report, Ms. Bachelet said she had been working to promote equal rights and opportunities even before the launch by meeting with world leaders and engaging civil society actors around the world. However, it was not merely a question of holding meetings, she said, emphasizing that both legislative and executive powers should be given incentives to work with judicial systems on including more gender-responsive reforms. That was why women’s voices and participation must be amplified. Some Governments had requested support in developing policies and strategies to enhance women’s leadership and participation, she said, highlighting, in particular, workshops in Egypt and Tunisia that supported women’s participation in writing new constitutions and in upcoming elections.
When asked how Muslim countries governed by Sharia (Islamic law) could be rendered less discriminatory, the Executive Director said discrimination was not inherent to one religion or system, stressing that all systems needed work. However, she suggested that women must be included in customary justice systems in order to reform them. Furthermore, laws that protected women in Muslim countries were ineffectively implemented or eclipsed by social norms, she pointed out, adding that in such cases, efforts could be made to influence religious leaders to change mindsets. That had worked in several countries in respect of female genital mutilation and early marriage, she noted.
Responding to questions about women’s status in Latin America, Ms. Bachelet said the region lagged particularly in terms of political representation. Equal pay was also a problem, with salaries registering a 30 to 40 per cent difference in favour of men, she added, suggesting that some of those problems could be addressed by ensuring access to justice systems.
Asked to assess women’s rights in Afghanistan, she said UN Women was working to support women’s leadership capacities, including in the context of the quota law passed in that country. Legal capacities were also being built up, while efforts were being made to curb sexual and domestic violence, and to provide safe homes in cases where women were abused.
In response to a question about how the United Nations had reacted to allegations of sexual violence in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan State, she said attempts had been made to confirm those reports, although the investigation had turned up no clear proof of sexual abuse.
Responding to other questions on the work of UN Women, she stressed the need for a “whole system” initiative to further the cause of women in the United Nations, including through the gender entity, underscoring in that context the need for particular efforts in least developed countries, as well those in conflict or post-conflict situations. Other areas of concern included societies with high levels of organized crime, she added.
Outlining UN Women’s five priority areas, she pointed out that its work was demand-driven because domestic ownership was critical to ensuring sustainable shifts towards gender equality. The agency’s budget was separated into core and non-core areas, with $300 million earmarked for the latter and $120 million for the former.
Asked whether that was enough, she suggested there would “never be enough”, but pointed out that the United Kingdom had recently announced roughly $60 million in contributions for 2011 and 2012, and other contributions were coming in.
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