US Advances Women’s Access to Justice

With its commitment to promote gender equality and non-violence against women, the United States of America today outlined efforts in advancing women’s access to justice and empowering women.

In her remarks at the Side Event of the 22nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in Switzerland, Deputy Assistant Secretary Paula Schriefer for International Organization Affairs says the legal empowerment of women and ensuring their access to justice is an important priority for the United States.

She says women in the United States fought long and hard to achieve laws that protect women from discrimination based on gender.

Sudanese women and girls march in El Fasher, North Darfur, to celebrate International Women’s Day, in many places the day’s 100th anniversary. The theme this year: Equal Access to Education, Training, Science and Technology. UN PHOTO

“American women enjoy the benefits of a justice system that can enforce these laws.” – Ms. Schriefer

Justice system for American women

According to Ms. Schriefer, while the prevention and prosecution of violence against women is but one aspect of achieving gender equality, it is a critically important one and the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994 by the U.S. Congress created a paradigm shift in how the issue of violence against women is addressed nationwide in the United States.

Among other achievements, the bill led to the establishment of the Office on Violence Against Women within the United States Department of Justice, which administers financial and technical assistance to communities across the country that are developing programs, policies, and practices aimed at ending domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking, including legal assistance to victims, court improvement, and training for law enforcement and courts- all of which increase women’s access to justice.

“More importantly, our laws and programs have had a proven impact.” – Ms. Schriefer

She notes recent statistics show that between 1993 and 2010, the number of women killed by an intimate partner declined by 30 percent.

A mother and her newborn child benefit from the Mother and Child in Good Health programme, created by the World Health Organization (WHO) in cooperation with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population and the Government of Canada. The programme gives pregnant women and children under five years of age access to free health care in 63 medical centres throughout Haiti for a period of 18 months. UN PHOTO

And annual rates of domestic violence against women plummeted by two thirds, she added.

Recent Bill for legal empowerment of women

By a 78-to-22 vote this month, Ms. Schriefer says the Senate approved a measure to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act including important new protections for lesbian, gay, immigrant and American Indian victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“It is our strong hope that our House of Representatives will follow suit and this ground-breaking legislation will be renewed with strengthened measures to protect all victims of violence based on gender and sexual identity.” – Mr. Schriefer

US Efforts to ensure gender equality and equal access to justice

Ms. Schriefer points out that US efforts to ensure gender equality and equal access to justice are not limited to domestic efforts.

Through its own experiences in recognizing gender equality as a human right, the United States issued in 2011 the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which aims to empower women to act as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence and insecurity.

In 2012, at the U.S. Department of State, US issued an implementation plan on the National Action Plan which outlines our commitments to accelerate, institutionalize, and better coordinate efforts to advance women’s participation in peace negotiations, peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and decision-making institutions; protect women from gender-based violence; and ensure equal access to relief and recovery assistance in areas of conflict and insecurity.

In addition, Ms. Schriefer adds taht focusing on protection, the United States intends to support the development of effective accountability and transitional justice mechanisms that address crimes committed against women and girls.

This includes multi-country efforts to support women’s advocacy and capacity building against violent extremism, she said.

The US continues to promote Women, Peace and Security in US bilateral and multilateral relationships by leveraging new and existing resources to advance the outcomes, actions and commitments contained in the National Action Plan.

US efforts in advancing women’s access to justice and empowering women around the globe

In Afghanistan

The US is working with the formal justice sectors to support legal education and curriculum reform, to raise the prominence of women within the judiciary, and to increase citizen’s knowledge of legal rights and accessing the courts.

According to Ms. Schriefer, the United States also intends to work with local authorities and community-based traditional dispute resolution (TDR) mechanisms to formalize interactions between the two to ensure TDR practices adhere to Afghan law and human rights standards.

“Connected to this work is our increase in support for Afghan women’s shelters through 2013.” – Ms. Schriefer

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

Ms. Schriefer says the United States will work to increase access to justice for vulnerable populations, including support for mobile courts, legal assistance and other activities to increase accessibility of justice, with women as a core target group. This support will include activities to improve the gender balance in the judiciary and the Council of Magistrates.

In Iraq

The United States also continues to work in Iraq to improve the practical knowledge of vulnerable and disadvantaged Iraqis of their responsibilities, rights and remedies under Iraqi law; to increase the competence and availability of legal professionals and civil society, to better preparing them to serve vulnerable populations; and improve government processes and procedures, facilitating access of vulnerable populations to government services and legal remedies.

“We will continue our support for Iraqi NGOs that provide legal assistance to women, helping them navigate legal procedures in order to access government benefits and to represent them in the formal justice system.” – Ms. Schriefer

Ms. Schriefer says the female beneficiaries will include victims of domestic violence; women with unregistered marriages; widows; poor, illiterate, or divorced women; and internally displaced persons and returnees.

In Liberia

According to Ms. Schriefer, the United States will continue support to develop and expand activities of community legal advisors to empower rural and marginalized communities to enforce and protect their rights while providing tangible options for justice, and strengthen dispute resolution capacity of indigenous leaders, including women and youth.

In Jordan

Ms. Schriefer says the United States will support programs that work with the Judicial Institute to empower and train newly-appointed female judges, in addition to supporting female students at the Judicial Diploma Program.

She says the training will include mentoring by senior female judges to build technical capacity and ensure their integration into the judicial system.

The legal education/human rights program will focus on training female law students and female professionals to encourage them to enter the legal field, she added.

In Kenya

Ms. Schriefer says Kenya’s new Constitution guarantees women’s land rights as well as recognizes the role of traditional dispute resolution mechanisms in implementing the Constitution. The United States will support a pilot program intended to serve as a model for improving rural women’s access to justice on land issues, while building processes to bridge the gap between state/formal and customary/informal justice systems.

She states that the effort aims to shift attitudes regarding women’s land rights and thereby improve community practice towards women’s access and rights to land as well as empower women to participate in the local governance decision-making processes.

The Accessing Justice Report by the International Development Law Organization (IDLO)

According to Ms. Schriefer, IDLO serves as an important tool in showing how the empowerment of women facilitates positive change and development in their communities.

She cites IDLO’s new women’s empowerment initiative, which highlights various women’s issues across the globe, shows what a vital tool legal empowerment can play in gender equality and women’s rights.

“We value the role that the Human Rights Council (HRC) plays in empowering women to have equal rights and access to justice.” – Ms. Schriefer

In addtition, the United States is proud of its participation in IDLO.

US currently holds the IDLO Presidency, she said.

On January 2, 2013, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and IDLO began a 30-month contract for nearly $50 million for the implementation of the project, “Completing the Transition in Afghanistan: Justice Training Transition Program (JTTP).”

Ms. Schriefer underlines that this contract, which will make IDLO the largest rule of law provider in Afghanistan, reinforces our support for IDLO with its ability to deliver on its programmatic work.

In addition, the United States, through my Bureau, provides $600,000 per year as a general contribution to IDLO.

Presidential Memorandum that promotes gender equality and empowering women and girls globally.

US Presidential Memorandum was signed by President Obama that aims to ensure that advancing the rights of women and girls remains central to U.S. diplomacy and development around the world.

US makes it clear that advancing the rights of women and girls is critical to the foreign policy of the United States.

President Obama’s National Security Strategy explicitly recognizes that “countries are more peaceful and prosperous when women are accorded full and equal rights and opportunity. When those rights and opportunities are denied, countries lag behind.”

US consider it is the unfinished business of the 21st Century of empowering women and girls, and it is essential that it remains central to US foreign policy for years to come.

In May 2012, with the USAID launching a women’s leadership fund, Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to empower women and girls around the world.

The Obama administration is taking steps to do more to increase women’s participation.

The State Department has recently created an initiative for women in public service as well.

In 2011, Secretary Clinton also signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation.

In addition, President Obama has placed women in many of the highest positions within his administration including the Secretary of State, the UN Ambassador, the Secretaries of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Labor.

Nearly 50 percent of his appointees to district courts are women, by far the highest percentage of any President in American history.

Recently, President Obama has already appointed two women to the Supreme Court, including one first Latina. And he has recently nominated the first woman to be a four-star general in the history of the Air Force.

The United States was at the forefront in 2009 and 2010 in leading efforts at the UN to support the consolidation of the UN’s existing gender-related institutions into a single more effective women’s agency. Ms. Brimmer said it was their goal at the UN to elevate women’s issues to their rightful status.

United States is also playing a leading role, along with international partners, in supporting empowerment of women, within the UN system, through participation in the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Mina Fabulous
Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn't preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.