Abolition (i.e. ending or outlawing practices) of certain practices or justice mechanisms may be the goal of some justice reform projects. In particular, when informal mechanisms endanger women or girls, subject women and girls to discrimination on the basis of sex or other status (such as, race/ethnicity, income level, urban or rural residence, etc.) or use physical punishments that amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, those mechanisms must be abolished.
Abolition can be accomplished through changes in the law or through education and provision of alternatives. There is general consensus that simply outlawing practices or mechanisms without public education and awareness is the least effective means of reform in the informal sector. Changing the law in combination with ongoing education and provision of alternatives is a preferable strategy.
In any scenario, especially when the abolition of an entire justice mechanism is being proposed, it is important to carefully consider the dangers of abolition and the impact that outlawing certain mechanisms could have on women’s safety (DANIDA, 2009; Penal Reform International, 2000). For example, practitioners should consider what alternative justice mechanisms are available to women and girls if an informal system is abolished. Would abolition of a justice mechanism lead to lawlessness or vigilantism, for example? What will take the place of the informal mechanism? How will abolition impact other community structures that in turn impact women’s and girls’ human rights? When informal mechanisms are abolished, States should devote resources to providing effective, consistent, and readily-available formal justice mechanisms to support the rights of women and girl victims of violence.
Palestine – Using Negotiated Contracts to Stop “Honor” Killings
The Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), a Palestinian women’s advocacy organization, works at the intersection of the formal and informal justice sectors by addressing “honor” killings. In order to stop families resorting to traditional “honor” killings, WCLAC, with support from the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, works closely with families, religious leaders, formal justice sector officials, and secular government leaders to devise alternative solutions. One solution is to bring parties together in a meeting to hear from victims, negotiate a solution which in the eyes of the family saves its family “honor” but also protects the safety of the woman or girl, and then to have family members sign a contract in the presence of religious and secular authority figures stating that they will honor the negotiated decision of the group not to carry out an “honor” killing. WCLAC uses ongoing monitoring of and data collection on femicides to continually adapt its strategies for prevention. WCLAC has developed a partnership with the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Al-Najah University to try to ensure that deaths of women are accurately documented as femicides instead of accidents or suicides. Along with providing alternatives for families considering femicide, WCLAC also works for legislative and policy change and continues to advocate for legal changes that would increase penalties for those who perpetrate “honor” killings.
Source: Spindel et al. 2000. With an End in Sight , pp. 103-04; WCLAC. 2009. Heading Towards Achieving Hope: 2009 Annual Report.