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Tackling gender-based violence through legal empowerment

This blog is part of 10 Weeks of Action: Demanding funding and protection for grassroots justice defenders by calling on our community to sign the #JusticeForAll petition. Each week, we will spotlight how access to justice is critical to the advancement of different thematic issues. The theme for Week 2 is Women’s Rights.

“It is estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime” – UN Women

Worldwide, women and girls experience violence, whether physical, moral or sexual, on a daily basis. In Brazil, for instance, 15 women die every day as a consequence of gender-based violence (gbv), a rape is reported every 11 minutes, and only in very few cases do proper investigation and punishment occur. 

If gender-based violence is a systemic problem; if governments and legislators are aware of it; and if the justice systems do not provide reparation, what should women do? This question has inspired the feminist global movement in the last 50 years to launch campaigns, rethink public policies and create networks of solidarity and mutual support among women.

Today, at least 140 countries have new legislation on domestic and sexual violence proposed and discussed by civil society and women’s groups. Despite these efforts, there is still a lack of enforcement from governmental agencies and judicial bodies. One of the most powerful tools to face this lack of state accountability is legal empowerment for women. (UN Women)

In Latin America, a growing number of women’s groups such as THEMIS are now using the “promotoras legais populares”, popular legal promoters or women paralegals, methodology, where community leaders are part of a learning experience over 6 months to get information on fundamental rights, anti-discrimination laws, gender violence, sexual and reproductive rights, labor rights, and also, about law enforcement agencies, justice courts, and legal procedures. In Brazil alone, there are more than 100 groups exploring this methodology of legal empowerment, with thousands of women working in their communities to address violence and discrimination. After many years, there is evidence that legal awareness provides support to prevent gender abuse, creating a new cycle of life without violence.

Justice has, in general, a top-down approach. Legal empowerment subverts this order by creating a dynamic where communities build solutions without previous prescription from legal officers. If these communities are aware of their rights, and also the ways to defend and enforce it, we can build a solid movement of people around the world who can design and develop new concepts of justice, now from bottom up, “knowing the law, using the law, shaping the law” as Vivek Maru from Namati always says.

The challenge ahead of us is to connect even more these experiences of women transforming violent environments into peaceful spaces, which links the SDGs of gender equality and access to justice providing a solid framework to deal with gender-based violence in the world.

Denise Dourado Dora works for Themis, an organization made up of grassroots justice defenders working to address gender-based violence in Brazil through legal empowerment.

Access to Justice is critical to the realization of women’s rights & gender equality. Call on world leaders to fund & protect those working at the grassroots to make this a reality! Sign & share the petition to #TipTheScales towards #JusticeForAll!

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