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Justice For Women Amidst COVID-19: we must safeguard women’s right to access justice

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Photo: UN Women/Fahad Abdullah Kaizer
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Thursday, 21 May, 2020

COVID-19 is exacerbating existing gender inequalities and undermining women’s rights. In a foreword for a new report published by UN Women, IDLO, UNDP, UNODC, World Bank and The Pathfinders, Graça Machel calls for action to safeguard women’s right to access justice during the pandemic.

“Gender equality and women’s rights are essential to getting through this pandemic together, to recovering faster, and to building a better future for everyone.” These words of the United Nations Secretary-General are a strong reminder that our collective quest to achieve gender equality is a critical precondition to solving all types of global problems, including COVID-19, in a manner that leaves no one behind.

Access to justice is an essential ingredient of gender equality and it cannot be denied any woman or girl during this time of crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to examine the impact of the crisis through a gender lens – from how lockdowns and stay at home orders can impinge on the rights of women, including increasing the risks of gender based violence – to the economic impact of the crisis on women who are more likely to work in the informal sector and are disproportionately impacted by the economic consequences. In broader terms, the rule of law and access to justice remains the foundation through which people are able to uphold their rights, seek redress for grievances, and protect those who are most at risk of being left behind, regardless of the necessities of our time.

We celebrate the frontline healthcare workers, who are predominantly women, for their dedication and commitment to fight this common cause. At the same time, we need to ensure that even when justice systems are under stress, access to justice and accountability for violations of fundamental rights cannot be undermined. They should be part of the essential services that need to continue to function in times of crisis.

It is on this basis that we are pleased to present this publication, Justice for Women Amidst COVID-19. Albeit based on limited data, it presents a global synthesis of the state of justice systems in connection with women’s justice needs, ongoing initiatives as well as policy recommendations to address deficits in justice delivery during this critical period. Placing a gender lens on justice impacts, the report documents major threats to women’s lives and livelihoods associated with COVID-19 – namely, curtailed access to justice institutions, rising intimate partner violence, hazards to women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health, growing injustice for workers, discriminatory laws and lack of legal identity, as well as repercussions on forcibly displaced women and those deprived of their liberty.

This publication may be used as a companion piece to an earlier publication, Justice for Women (2019). It presents a comprehensive overview of the challenges and opportunities that women face in their quest for justice in the context of both Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment and SDG 16 on peaceful, just and inclusive societies. It contextualizes them in the current situation where countries and communities are seeking to address the heightened challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis and recover from its devastating effects.

We anticipate that this assessment will help raise awareness of the gender-related impacts of the pandemic. We hope that the policy recommendations will be adopted or adapted by stakeholders across different legal systems to help build back better – towards a brighter future that protects and advances the human rights of all women and girls.


This foreword was co-authored by

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN WOMEN

Jan Beagle, Director-General, International Development Law Organization

Achim Steiner, Administrator, UNDP

Sandie Okoro, Senior Vice President and Group General Counsel, The World Bank Group

Liv Tørres, Director, Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies Center on International Cooperation New York University

Graça Machel, Deputy-Chair, The Elders and Founder, The Graça Machel Trust

“COVID-19 is public health crisis as well as a socio-economic catastrophe. It exacerbates existing gender inequalities and undermines women’s rights and liberties. Women’s voices and leadership must be at the core of the response to the pandemic and beyond.  This new UN Women report sets out important findings and recommendations which I urge the highest levels of political power to take seriously.”


Graça Machel - Elder
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