The justice chain is the series of steps that must be taken to access justice.
Millions of women, worldwide, face major barriers when navigating the formal justice system including:
- Cost, distance and language barriers
- Lack of knowledge of their rights or the formal justice system
- The threat of social sanction or stigma if they approach the formal justice system.
As a result of these barriers, cases are often dropped before they get to court, denying women justice.
Making the justice chain gender-responsive
To meet women’s needs, ensuring that every part of the chain is gender-responsive is a central part of efforts to strengthen the justice system.
Action is needed in 3 key areas:
1. Clear mandates and procedures
Clear mandates are essential to ensure that public services are responsive to women.
National legal frameworks should provide for the development of standardized protocols, regulations to enforce the law and mechanisms to ensure coordination between different parts of the system. Adequate and sustained funding, as well as measures to monitor implementation are also needed.
For example, in Namibia, the domestic violence law requires the Inspector-General to issue specific directives on the duties of police officers, to keep statistics on reports of domestic violence, and to submit regular reports to the relevant minister.
2. Integrated and specialized services
Because of the institutional and social barriers that women face, they need specialized services tailored to meet their needs.
One promising approach is to integrate services, for example through one-stop shops. By bringing together police, forensic and health care services under one roof, they reduce the number of steps that a woman has to take to access justice.
3. Putting women on the front line of the justice system
The presence of women in the police and judiciary is a matter of equality and fairness, but it is also important for maintaining public confidence in the justice system.
Global data show that there is a positive correlation between women’s representation in the police and women’s willingness to report sexual assault.
When judges are made aware of the barriers that women face in accessing justice, attitudes can change and they often come up with simple but effective solutions, such as waiving court fees, providing forms free of charge or prioritizing sensitive cases, including those related to violence against women.