The United Nations estimates that there are currently four billion people excluded from the rule of law, with over 150 countries that have one or more laws that discriminate against women. To address this inequality and bring more women access to justice, the High-level Group on Justice for Women (HLG) had its inaugural meeting at the Hague from May 28-29, 2018.
What is the High-level Group on Justice for Women?
This group was started by U.N. Women along with the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO). Its members include experts on human rights, gender and justice from civil society organizations, governments, academics and intergovernmental organizations.
The main purpose of this group is to act as advocates for women’s access to justice during the High-level Political Forum in 2019 where the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be reviewed. In particular, the HLG is focused on SDG 16 with its stated goal being to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”
One of the HLG’s main purposes is to ensure the implementation, monitoring and reporting of SDG 16 in the years to come. The group wishes to highlight the justice gaps that women and girls face around the world, ways to improve global access to justice and why this is a necessary cause to invest in. To address these issues, the HLG is focused on these approaches:
- Reforming the legal and policy framework
- Reforming justice institutions
- Legally empowering women to access justice and claim rights
- Addressing customary and informal justice
Why Justice for Women Matters
The HLG argues that ensuring justice for women is at the heart of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals because, without this measure, other SDGs such as education, equality, health and employment will not be realized. The SDGs are key to fighting global poverty, with the first goal being to end poverty in all its form everywhere. Equal justice is a means to recognizing and respecting women’s rights as it allows women to function as equal members of society who can contribute to development and ending poverty.
Beyond equality and respect for human rights, the HLG strongly believes that women’s access to justice is both a requirement and enabler of development. There has been more and more evidence that with greater gender equality comes greater economic development. For instance, when women are permitted to work and contribute to household incomes, studies have shown that more money is allocated for health, education, food and children. Improving justice for women gives social, economic and environmental benefits instead of continuing poverty, social exclusion, bad health, violence and crime.
Closing the Justice Gap
All of this work highlights the contrasts between what is promised in SDG 16 and what women are really experiencing and the contrasts between what women need and want when seeking justice and what they actually receive. In other words, this is known as the justice gap.
Around the world, 104 economies have laws preventing women from working specific jobs like manufacturing, construction, agriculture, water and transportation. Equally shocking, 45 countries have no laws on domestic violence and 59 economies have no laws about sexual harassment in the workplace.
This unequal justice and lack of respect for women’s rights is a hindrance to development and ending global poverty. The HLG is an important ally in the fight to end global poverty and its work to combat the justice gap will hopefully see great results in the years to come.
– Alexandra Eppenauer