For women to be able to access justice, legal and constitutional frameworks that guarantee women’s rights are essential.
Laws can play a positive role in shaping society, by creating new norms and by helping to bring about social change. For example, where laws are in place to prohibit domestic violence, fewer people think violence against women is justified.
Women all over the world have used the courts to demand their rights, and also to clarify and extend the law, and to hold governments to account.
However, there remain critical gaps in legal frameworks.
In signing up to CEDAW, governments have committed to three key areas of reform:
Ending explicit legal discrimination.
The most common examples of this remain within family laws, on issues related to marriage and divorce, where women are accorded fewer rights than men. In addition, in many countries women are not allowed to pass their citizenship to their children or foreign-born spouses.
Extending the protection of the rule of law.
Historically, legal jurisdiction has been divided between public and private matters, leaving the private sphere of the family ‘outside justice’. As a result, violence against women, much of which occurs within the private domain, has not been widely legislated against, until recently.
Taking responsibility for the law’s impact.
Governments are responsible not only for passing laws, but for ensuring they are implemented. Taking responsibility for the law’s impact also means paying attention to the unintended consequences of legislation and policy.
Drafting laws to drive effective implementation, with clear mandates and procedures for service providers, in-built accountability mechanisms, and adequate funding is essential.