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Justice for women and girls is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, with its commitment to gender equality (SDG 5) and its promise of peaceful, just and inclusive societies (SDG 16).

UN Women, IDLO and the World Bank recently convened the High-level Group on Justice for Women, along with the Task Force on Justice of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. It delivered a comprehensive report to better understand common justice problems for women.

For too many women, gaps persist between the promise of justice and its reality. Women living in poverty experience more frequent and more complex, interrelated legal problems and, every additional legal problem can increase their probability of experiencing more.

The Justice for Women report provides a global overview of legal discriminations.

•    More than half of women have experienced a legal problem over the past two years.
•    From health to consumer issues, similar shares of women and men face civil legal problems. However women face more family-related legal problems and restrictions on their rights.
•    In Australia, people with multiple disadvantages face problems six times more than those with none.
 
A strong case for investing in justice for women
 
Justice for women is a basic human right, reflected in such core treaties as CEDAW, and it is critical to progress on all the SDGs.

But women’s justice makes economic sense.

For the first time, this report brings together the evidence demonstrating that investing in justice for women—and especially eliminating legal barriers, reducing gender-based violence and child marriage—produces high returns to the economy and society.
Women’s justice, security and inclusion, as captured in the WPS Index, is strongly associated with human development.

•    Ending child marriage could generate annual gains from lower population growth, for example, estimated by the World Bank and ICRW to exceed US$20 billion in 2015 and US$560 billion in 2030.
•    Women’s land rights are associated with better outcomes on many economic and development fronts.

Fortunately, many proven actions, including eliminating discriminatory laws, are cost-effective, relatively easy to implement and produce sizeable gains. However, additional resources are required to enforce existing and new laws. Providing affordable legal services for disadvantaged groups likely require more money.
 
What works to advance justice for women
 
The Justice for Women report framed promising approaches to women’s justice under five categories.

Eliminating discriminatory laws signals that gender-based discrimination is unacceptable. Since 2013, there have been 87 changes in legal gender equality in 65 countries. With the support of UNDP, the G-20 along with women activists, academics, and politicians successfully lobbied for gender equality in Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution. Fourteen principals safeguarding women’s rights were ratified, including reproductive rights, marriage equality, and protection from domestic violence.
 
Preventing and responding to intimate partner violence has moved to the top of the global, and in many countries, national agenda. The pace of national legislative reform on domestic violence has been rapid since 1976, when only one country prohibited marital rape. Now a majority of countries have laws on domestic violence.

This legal reform needs to be accompanied by supportive policies and regulations, as well as community engagement. Strategic litigation can be a way to bring about a gender-responsive interpretation and application of the law. In Afghanistan, UNDP has been working with community religious leaders to increase women’s knowledge of their legal rights.

Overcoming disadvantage for poor and marginalized women requires targeted policies and programmes. This can be done through social protection programmes—the focus of this year’s CSW.

Others include:
•    Legal aid to enable poor people to seek justice that would be otherwise out of reach
•    Support from paralegal services
•    Promoting legal literacy to create an awareness of legal rights and duties
•    Empowering women, economically and as rights holders, is part of ensuring justice.
•     A legal identity can be a stepping stone to women’s empowerment. Access to some government programmes are conditional on having a legal identity.
•    Strengthening women’s land rights has intrinsic and instrumental importance for both women and men. Family law, inheritance law, and land law affect the right to own and control property. In collaboration with UN Women and other UN agencies, UNDP finds that in Algeria and Saudi Arabia, daughters are eligible to receive only half the inheritance of sons, while marital rape is not a crime.
•    Eradicating patriarchal biases in family law has been successful in many countries.
What works to change the pervasive under-representation of women in decision-making in the justice sector?
•    Political will is the most important.
•    Fair and transparent selection, nomination, and promotion processes.
•    Improving data and tracking progress. Most countries license attorneys and bar associations, who collect, but do not publish, demographic information.
 
Evidence suggests that measures, such as legal reforms, are best coupled with community efforts. A one size fits all approach is not effective—programmes must adapt to local context.
 
Looking ahead
 
How can we accelerate progress? Governments and partners are now preparing Acceleration Actions on Justice for All for the SDG summit in September. Those working at the intersection of SDG5 and SDG16 can contribute by mobilizing further actions and registering them as commitments with the United Nations ahead of the SDG Summit. UNDP is a critical partner in making this happen.

The report Justice for Women, its executive summary and the infographic summary are available online in English and Spanish. The report of the Task Force on Justice, and related reports are available online in English, Spanish and French.  The Justice for Women video can be viewed online alongside related activities.

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