In Pursuit of Justice
Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012
This volume of Progress of the World’s Women starts with a paradox: the past century has seen a transformation in women’s legal rights, with countries in every region expanding the scope of women’s legal entitlements. Nevertheless for most of the world’s women, the laws that exist on paper do not translate to equality and justice.
In 1911, just two countries in the world allowed women to vote. A century later, that right is virtually universal and women are exercising greater influence in decision-making than ever before. Alongside women’s greater political influence, there has been a growing recognition of women’s rights, not only political and civil, but also economic, social and cultural rights. Today, 186 countries worldwide have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), signalling their commitment to meeting the human rights of women and girls, breaking down the barriers to gender equality and justice.
And yet, while examples of countries making immense strides in promoting gender equality abound, all too often women are denied control over their bodies, denied a voice in decision making and denied protection from violence. Some 600 million women, more than half the world’s working women, are in vulnerable employment, trapped in insecure jobs, often outside the purview of labour legislation. Despite major progress on legal frameworks, millions of women report experiencing violence in their lifetimes, usually at the hands of an intimate partner. Meanwhile, the systematic targeting of women for brutal sexual violence is a hallmark of modern conflicts.
Pervasive discrimination against women creates major hurdles to achieving rights and hinders progress on all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the benchmarks that the international community has set to eradicate extreme poverty – from improving maternal health, to achieving universal education and halting the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Although equality between women and men is guaranteed in the Constitutions of 139 countries and territories, inadequate laws and implementation gaps make these guarantees hollow promises, having little impact on the day-to-day lives of women. In many contexts, in rich and poor countries alike, the infrastructure of justice – the police, the courts and the judiciary – is failing women, which manifests itself in poor services and hostile attitudes from the very people whose duty it is to meet women’s rights.
Progress of the World’s Women shows that well-functioning legal and justice systems can be a vital mechanism for women to achieve their rights. They can shape society by providing accountability, by stopping the abuse of power and by creating new norms. The courts have been a critical site of accountability for individual women to claim rights and to set legal precedents that have benefitted millions of others.
This report highlights the ways in which governments and civil society are working together to reform laws and create new models for justice service delivery that meet women’s needs. It demonstrates how they have risen to the challenge of ensuring that women can access justice in the most challenging of situations, including in the context of legal pluralism and during and after conflict.