Our strategy on women’s human rights and access to justice is premised on the understanding that enhancing women’s access to justice is critical to ensuring women’s substantive equality in all other spheres. Further, IWRAW Asia Pacific has historically identified the capacity building of justice sector actors - judges and lawyers - as a key component for advancing the discourse on gender equality in laws and policies at the national level and thereby driving the domestication of CEDAW.
Recent movements the world over have highlighted the consistent and often egregious failure of laws and institutions to adequately protect women’s rights. Examples range from the #TotalShutdown march in South Africa to women in India calling out instances of sexual misconduct and violence via social media using #LoSHA and #MeToo, and #Cuéntalo in Spain and Latin America, precipitated by the acquittal of five men on rape charges. This erosion of faith in public institutions - precipitated in many national contexts due to state capture and corporate capture - points to a graver concern regarding rollbacks on the rule of law and other principles of good governance.
Whereas a system’s response to these challenges is necessary and must be identified, our near-term strategy has been to focus on individual champions of gender equality who, through adjudication, litigation or advocacy for law and policy reform, are contributing to creating an enabling legal environment for the realisation of women’s right of access to justice.
IWRAW Asia Pacific aims to create an enabling legal environment for women’s access to justice by ensuring enhanced implementation of CEDAW through laws, policies and institutions. In doing so, it follows a three-pronged, multi-stakeholder approach as outlined below:
- Enhancing the technical capacity of women’s rights organisations (WROs) to engage with law and policy frameworks and justice sector institutions to increase their compliance with the CEDAW framework;
- Engaging directly with justice sector and legal actors - judges, lawyers, legal organisations - in order to engender the justice sector systemically as well as building their technical capacity to engage with the CEDAW framework; and
- Convening spaces for WROs and justice sector actors to leverage their specific experiences and capacities towards identifying scalable solutions to key challenges concerning women’s human rights and access to justice.
Programme in Action
In December 2017, IWRAW Asia Pacific launched an innovative initiative called Judges for Gender Justice, a knowledge-sharing and networking platform targeting judicial actors to collect and exchange good judicial practices on specific women’s rights issues in the context of women’s access to justice. The initial convening under this rubric took place at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center as the International Judicial Colloquium on Sexual Violence & Women’s Access to Justice. It was attended by 19 judges and legal and women’s rights experts, including sitting judges of the International Criminal Court and Constitutional Court of South Africa and the former Chief Justice of Pakistan. The colloquium resulted in the adoption of the Bellagio Declaration on state obligation and role of the judiciary in ensuring access to justice for gender-based violence, including sexual violence in an effective, competent manner and with a gender perspective.
The Bellagio Declaration adopted at the International Judicial Colloquium has been disseminated widely, including to the judiciaries of Timor Leste, Uganda and Zimbabwe directly by the judges who took part in the convening, and subsequently with the judiciaries of South Africa, Thailand, Mauritius and Nepal. It has also been shared and reproduced by stakeholders such as GREVIO, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Association of Magistrates and Judges and the Asia Pacific Forum of NHRIs to their networks. It has been included by the International Commission of Jurists in a resource entitled Traditional and Customary Justice Systems Selected International Sources. Most significantly, a judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe who attended the inaugural convening has delivered three significant judgements on gender-based violence against women. In S v Jeri, J. Tsanga makes a legal finding of femicide in a case of murder; in S v Ranchi, she relies on Article 2 of CEDAW to ask for removal of adultery as a recognised ground for provocation resulting in mitigation in cases concerning spousal killings; and in S v Tevedzayi she refers to General Recommendation No. 35 to call for enhanced implementation of domestic violence laws in Zimbabwe.