Women's Legal Rights and Access to Justice

A fair legal system and access to justice for women and men is essential to good governance and essential for gender equality. In East and South East Asia, UN Women is working with governments and community-based organisations to ensure that legal systems do not perpetuate discrimination against women, and are in fact tools for the advancement of women's rights.

UN Women in Action

Strengthening Women's Legal Rights in Aceh
In Aceh, women's legal rights are a cornerstone of post-tsunami reconstruction and peace building. Women's groups have mobilized in Aceh to ensure that women's needs are reflected in this crucial period of rebuilding after the tsunami and conflict. With UN Women™ support, gender advocates developed an alternative draft to the Law on Governing Aceh (LoGA) which resulted in six recommendations being included into the final legislation covering economic, social, and political spheres, making it a stronger and more equitable piece of legislation.

Aceh has the right to develop and pass qanuns, local by-laws which are informed by Sharia Law. With UN Women's support, gender advocates in Aceh are playing critical roles in the creating more equitable qanuns by sitting on qanun-drafting committees, advocating to members of parliament and speaking publicly on the need for gender-sensitive laws.

Some of the results of UN Women's work to strengthen women's legal rights include:

  • The Qanun on the Execution of Elections in Aceh mandates a 30% quota of women in the provincial level Independent Election Commission (KIP), the district level Election Commission (KP) and the Election Observation Committee (Panwaslu Aceh)
  • The Qanun on Local Political Parties mandates a 30% quota for women candidates, in line with national commitments
  • The draft Qanun on Women's Empowerment and the Protection of Women's Rights includes principles of substantive equality, non-discrimination and temporary special measures
  • The Women's Empowerment Bureau has been upgraded to an Agency as a result of advocacy from women's groups
  • A pool of gender equality advocates are equipped with expertise in CEDAW and Islam and gender responsive legal drafting skills
  • A valuable knowledge base on MDGs, CEDAW, gender and Islam, SCR 1325 is growing in Aceh
  • UN Women partners are increasingly taking a seat at the decision making table. The Government and legislature are requesting the attendance of gender advocates at policy discussions, consultations and public forums.
  • UN Women worked with the Sharia Court to train Sharia Court judges in family law, domestic violence law and CEDAW. The training highlighted the convergence of gender justice in Islam and CEDAW. "This is the first time I realized that CEDAW is not against Islamic values. CEDAW promotes values of justice and fairness just as Islam does." (Sharia Court Judge participating in UN Women training)

A Magna Carta of Women for the Philippines

In the Philippines, an Act providing for the Magna Carta of Women of the Philippines was formally signed into law as Republic Act No. 9710 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on 14 August 2009.

The Magna Carta of Women (MCW) is a landmark piece of legislation that serves as the Philippines' gender equality law. The MCW is significantly linked to CEDAW in explicitly defining gender discrimination, state obligation, substantive equality, and temporary special measures and outlining provisions to implement these principles.

The passage of The Magna Carta of Women is the culmination of a seven year lobby by women's groups. The legislative work for the Magna Carta of Women has been supported by UN Women through its CIDA-funded CEDAW South East Asia Programme since 2006 and by UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Habitat, UNDP, UNAIDS, and ILO through the UN Joint Programme to Facilitate the Implementation of the CEDAW.

"After all the attempts to block the passage of the Magna Carta of Women, the Filipino women have finally emerged victorious. This is a by-product of women's continuous struggle for equality and serves as a gateway in support to women's legitimate concerns," Gabriela women's party-list Rep., Liza Maza, a member of the bicameral conference committee on MCW and a co-author of the House version of MCW

“For the first time, there's a provision which categorically acknowledges that women's rights are human rights and therefore the principles of human rights are there such as non-discrimination, equality, participation, Chairperson Leila De Lima of the Commission of Human Rights

Key provisions of the Magna Carta of Women include:

  • Ensure that the State will review and, when necessary, amend and/or repeal existing laws that are discriminatory to women within three years from its enactment;
  • Institute affirmative action mechanisms so that "women can participate meaningfully in the formulation, implementation, and evaluation of policies, plans, and programs for national, regional, and local development."
  • Ensure mandatory human rights and gender sensitivity training to all government personnel involved in preventing and defending women from gender-based violence;
  • Encourage Local Government Units (LGUs) to develop a Gender and Development (GAD) code in their respective localities based on consultation with their women constituents.
  • Increase women's representation in third level positions in government to achieve equal gender balance within the next five years while the composition of women in all levels of development planning and program implementation will be at least 40 percent;
  • Provide equal access and elimination of discrimination in education, scholarships and training and outlaw "expulsion, non-readmission, prohibiting enrollment, and other related discrimination of women students and faculty due to pregnancy out of marriage."
  • Promote the equal status of men and women on the titling of the land and issuance of stewardship contracts and patents; and
  • The NCRFW will be renamed the Philippine Commission on Women and will be the overall monitoring and oversight body to ensure the implementation of the Magna Carta of Women. The Commission on Human Rights was also designated as the Gender and Development Ombud that will receive complaints and recommend actions for violations of the law. The NCRFW and CHR were also assigned to formulate the implementing rules and regulations of the Magna Carta of Women.