Chapter 05: Justice
Breaking the Walls of Silence: Accountability for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls
Breaking the Walls of Silence: Accountability for Ending Violence Against Women and Girls
Violence affects at least one in three women and girls in the world. Violence against women (VAW) is rooted in unequal power relations between men and women, so efforts to end VAW must promote women's empowerment and gender equality. READ MORE

Women's contribution to building the accountability of the judicial system to all citizens has come in large part from the insistence that justice starts at home, and that courts and the judiciary have a critical role to play in ensuring that the legal framework is applied fully, justly and evenly to benefit all individuals. Yet even as the number of equal rights and anti-discrimination statues has grown at both the national and the international levels in recent years, many of these face considerable implementation and enforcement challenges. Informal justice systems pose a particular challenge, as they are often exempt from applying human rights and gender equality standards.

  • Effective prevention violence against women is an important signal that the justice system is accountable to women.
    • By 2006, 86 countries had instituted some sort of prohibition against domestic violence. In Liberia, one of the first laws passed following the election of President Johnson Sirleaf was a law criminalizing rape and making it a non-parole offense.
    • Yet laws on sexual assault and marital rape, as well as laws on sexual and domestic violence, are greatly in need of development across all geographic regions. Only a fraction of countries worldwide have specific legislation criminalizing rape in marriage, for example.
  • For gender-responsive laws to be implemented and enforced, law enforcement institutions, such as the police, often need to be reformed to eliminate gender bias.
    • In Liberia, Timor-Leste and Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244), specialized police units and an enhanced female presence in the police forces is encouraging women to engage with the police, both to register their complaints and to join the service
  • In some countries, particularly in the developing world, most women will never come into contact with the formal justice system. Because it is very difficult to apply constitutionally recognized human rights standards to informal justice systems, such systems rarely guarantee women's right to substantive equality.
    • Some innovations by women's rights groups working with informal justice forums have created room for women to engage in the decision-making process. In Eastern Nigeria, for example, the advocacy of women's groups has ensured the appointment of women as "red cap chiefs"– who engage in local dispute adjudication.
    • In some post-conflict states, traditional dispute resolution systems – like Mato Oput in Uganda, Gacaca in Rwanda, or Bashingatahe in Burundi – offer the justice system much-needed help in identifying cases for the formal system, and adjudicating simpler cases. They have yet however to demonstrate an advantage in prosecuting cases of conflict-related sexual violence and other atrocities against women given the lack of adequate victim and witness protection.
  • When domestic justice systems have failed to remedy their grievances, women have sometimes brought them to the attention of regional or international human rights bodies.
    • For example, the disappearance and murder of more than 300 women in Ciudad Juarez since 1993 came to the world's attention thanks to the actions of women's-rights NGOs that took up the matter before the regional Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the United Nations CEDAW Committee.
  • CEDAW represents an important tool for improving national accountability for women's rights.