Thank you. I would like to thank the Permanent Representatives from Australia and Austria and IDLO Director-General Irene Khan for hosting this event and for the opportunity to participate in the important discussion of women’s access to justice in a human rights context.
The legal empowerment of women and ensuring their access to justice is an important priority for the United States. Women in the United States fought long and hard to achieve laws that protect women from discrimination based on gender and we enjoy the benefits of a justice system that can enforce these laws.
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, it 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. Recent statistics show that between 1993 and 2010, the number of women killed by an intimate partner declined by 30 percent. And annual rates of domestic violence against women plummeted by two thirds.
By a 78-to-22 vote this month, 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.
But our efforts to ensure gender equality and equal access to justice are not limited to domestic efforts. Through our 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. Last year, at the U.S. Department of State, we 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.
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. We continue to promote Women, Peace and Security in our bilateral and multilateral relationships by leveraging new and existing resources to advance the outcomes, actions and commitments contained in the National Action Plan.
Let me briefly tell you about some of the specific programs where we are actively working to advance women’s access to justice and empowering women.
In Afghanistan, we are 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. 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.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 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.
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. 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, 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.
We are also working on expanding our programs including in Jordan and Kenya.
In Jordan, 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. 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.
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. 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) serves as an important tool in showing how the empowerment of women facilitates positive change and development in their communities.
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.
The United States is proud of its participation in IDLO. As you may know, the United States currently holds the IDLO Presidency. 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).” 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.