UN: police, courts and judiciary fail women

2011-07-07 07:03

More than half the world’s working women are trapped in insecure jobs, often without protection from labour laws.

Some 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not a crime.

And just 28 countries have parliaments where at least 30% of the lawmakers are women.

These are some of the key findings in the first report issued by the new UN agency, UN Women, entitled Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice, which was released yesterday.

Although 139 countries and territories now guarantee gender equality in their constitutions, the report said millions of women in many countries are still deprived of economic resources and access to public services and all too often “are denied control over their bodies, denied a voice in decision-making and denied protection from violence”.

“For most of the world’s women the laws that exist on paper do not always translate into equality and justice,” it said.

“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 fulfil women’s rights.”

UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet said ensuring justice meant ensuring women’s rights.

“Injustice is not inevitable or natural,” she told a news conference announcing the report. “It’s not the basis of any culture or religion and we have the power to change it.”

In the 169-page report, UN Women called on governments to repeal laws that discriminate against women, provide more funding to support innovative services such as legal aid and specialised courts to ensure that women can access the justice system and make certain that there are female police, judges and legislators.

It also called for a massive increase in funding to promote women’s access to justice, noting that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, comprising most of the world’s major economies, allocated $4.2 billion (about R28 billion) to justice in 2009 but just $206 million to programmes where gender equality was the primary aim and $633 million to programmes where it was a secondary aim.

Women have achieved greater economic empowerment through laws that prohibit discriminatory practices, guarantee equal pay and provide for maternity and paternity leave, the report said.

But 53% of working women – 600 million in total – are in vulnerable jobs such as self-employment, domestic work, or unpaid work for family businesses which often lack the protection of labour laws, it found.

It said women are still paid up to 30% less than men in some of the 117 countries that have laws guaranteeing equal pay in the workplace.

“Full equality demands that women become men’s true equals in the eyes of the law – in their home and working lives and in the public sphere,” said UN Women’s Bachelet, a former president of Chile.

UN Women said laws must be enforced if women are to achieve equality, but pointed to many barriers.

“In the developing world, more than one third of women are married before the age of 18, missing out on education and exposed to the risks of early pregnancy,” the report said.

Domestic violence is now outlawed in 125 countries but 603 million women live in countries where it is not a crime – and even where there are laws, the report said, “millions of women report experiencing violence in their lifetimes, usually at the hands of an intimate partner.”

Bachelet was asked whether UN Women should be doing something about high-powered men like Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn creating very bad examples of behaviour toward women.

“I’m not going to mention any specific issues on trials that are ongoing,” Bachelet said.

“But, of course, I can say that we clearly understand that women are victims of sexual assaults or rape or whatever through powerful men and not so powerful men.”

UN Women urged governments to learn from countries that have taken practical steps to make justice accessible to ordinary women.

It cited South Africa’s “one-stop shops” that bring justice, legal and health care services together; women’s police stations in Latin America that have led to an increase in the reporting of gender-based violence; Congo’s mobile courts, which are bringing justice to women in rural areas where sexual violence is high, and legal aid to women in countries from Pakistan and Mexico to Fiji and Kyrgyzstan.

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