3 Key Takeaways from the CSW65 Virtual Forum Parallel Event "Justice on the Frontline: Tackling Gender Injustice during the Pandemic"

3 Key Takeaways from the CSW NGO Forum Parallel Event Justice on the Frontline: Tackling Gender Injustice during the Pandemic Event

On March 18 the Legal Empowerment Network joined Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Legal Empowerment Network members @jasminkafriscik @deniseddora @MarciaSoares @Farzanakhan, @LinetteduToit, and @JadeAlves, as well as Liv Torres and representatives from governments such as Florencia Sotelo and Nadine Gasman Zylbermann to discuss how organizations are rethinking approaches to justice in ways that recognize communities and grassroots justice defenders as central actors.

As Mary Robinson noted in her opening remarks:

“The impacts of crises are never gender-neutral and COVID-19 has starkly exposed underlying inequalities and reminded us that rights on paper are not necessarily rights in practice”.

Because of this reality, a recent survey by the Justice For All Campaign found that in spite of the daunting financial and practical challenges these organisations faced as a result of the pandemic, 91 percent of respondents are finding ways to continue to support communities by innovating and adjusting the way they work. Liv Tørres of Pathfinders reiterated this critical point when she said:

“before the pandemic the justice gap was enormous & this has only been exacerbated by Covid. We know no country will be able to achieve just societies without closing the gender gap. We know that countries need women to achieve their full economic and social potential”.

This event not only highlights the critical role of grassroots legal empowerment organizations in tackling gender injustice during the pandemic but also shared initial findings from a collaborative and participatory research endeavor undertaken by the Legal Empowerment Network members.

3 Key Takeaways

1. Community networks strengthen crisis response

Many of our panelists spoke passionately about the larger network of other community based organizations they have become a part of and how this network was the key to their ability to continue to provide services to those in need. @jasminkafriscik from Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women (North Macedonia) shared the valuable lessons the COVID crisis has taught her community stating:

“grassroots justice initiatives, especially paralegals, are a community resource and a community effort and it’s an excellent way for us to provide timely support for women who are suffering from GBV.”

Grassroots justice organizations are not just providing services for last mile delivery and hard to reach communities, they are often the only programs that continue to operate and provide services during crisis situations.

We also heard from @Farzanakhan who detailed how My Choices Foundation (India) and the network she is a part of adopted several strategies to compliment government work and fill the gap left by the institutions. Grassroots networks were able to be activated to provide critical services to women. It is clear from the testimonies that we heard during the event that the critical services that support women and minorities in times of crisis are organizations that have, and continue to, put the time and effort to understand the community they serve and the gaps that exist. These organizations, as @LinetteduToit from FIDA Uganda explained, are a lifeline. It is clear that justice is an essential service and these networks are providing critical services for their communities.

2. Government responses are often gender blind

A larger theme of the CSW65 event, and the lead up conversations to the Generation Equality Forum (GEF), centered around the need for increased representation and female leadership. We know, from decades of research, that increasing women’s representation in decision making spaces leads to more egalitarian laws and policies.

@MarciaSoares from Themis - Gender, Justice and Human Rights explained the situation in Brazil, as social distancing rules that were created by law dictated what services could be open. Critically, none of these legally designated essential services included services for women. Importantly, these services, that weren’t working efficiently in the first place, were then closed. Because of this, Brazil saw and increase in violence against women, calls to women police stations increased, murders of women increased, 23% of rapes were not reported, there was a 10% decrease in threat crimes, and 15% decrease in reporting of bodily injuries.

Similarly, @LinetteduToit from FIDA Uganda noted that the first measures put in place by the government were gender blind. The majority of services for women facing violence at home were not designated as essential and there was a major gap in the institutional framework that was meant to support them.

What these examples really show us is that no policy is gender blind. They have far reaching impacts on women that set back the progress that has been made for the last 25 years, since Beijing Declaration. Nadine Gasman Zylbermann, president of the Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres (MĂ©xico) noted in her opening remarks that the objective of empowerment, that is supported by organizations across the world, speaks to the institutional needs that women and girls require with a frame of access to justice, freedom from gender-based violence, as well as the role of justice defenders to fill gaps, including better provisions of services, reduce violence and accountability. Over the course of this continuing crisis, many governments have identified gaps in their ability to provide services to all populations. The organizations we have heard from today show us the many lessons governments may learn from their community approaches and the lessons they can integrate from the legal empowerment groups to advance gender responsiveness.

3. Closing the technological and funding gaps are critical

Mary Robinson opened this event with a call for support for the many organizations doing critical work. There is a funding gap that needs closing, those working in grassroots legal work know this to be true in the best of times, but in times of crisis this becomes even more critical. We saw in the early months of the crisis that governments and other formal institutions were not prepared to operate essential services completely remote and more impactfully that the hardest hit communities did not have the technological capacities to even receive these services once they were digitally offered. Many of the advocates that shared their perspectives also shared innovative ways they adapted to reach the needs of those populations.

@deniseddora, from Themis - Gender, Justice and Human Rights (Brazil), outlined strategies currently being deployed by her organization. These included, communication amongst the organization, community TV and radio to broadcast awareness campaigns on GBV, mediation for GBV cases in small urban and rural communities, and cooperation agreement with special courts on GBV for monitoring women with Urgent Protective Measures. All of these strategies emphasize and work with the needs of communities and are emblematic of the power of grassroots justice organizations in creating innovative solutions to complex outreach and servicing problems that the COVID crisis has presented.

Recording, Resources and Follow-up

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Below the links to the recordings:

  • Watch the webinar in English here
  • Watch the webinar in Spanish here
  • Watch the webinar in Portuguese here (*Por favor, note que a gravação em portuguĂŞs começa alguns minutos apĂłs o inĂ­cio do webinar, faltando as observações iniciais).
  • Watch the webinar in French here (*Veuillez noter que l’interprĂ©tation en français commence Ă  la minute 7 de l’enregistrement).!

Know more about the project “Gender Justice during and beyond the COVID-19 crisis: Institutional responses and the role of legal empowerment groups” in the short video below:

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