Provide rights-based education and awareness
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Last edited: December 22, 2011

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Survivors have many valid reasons for not engaging with the justice system: fear of the perpetrator, fear of public exposure, fear that the remedies won’t meet their needs, and fear of family reactions among many other social and economic factors. The justice sector can directly address some important survivor fears such as the fear that she will be disbelieved and the lack of faith that the justice system will effectively prosecute and punish the perpetrator.

Improvements to justice sector response to survivors should begin at the top levels of the justice sector with the Ministry of Justice and continue through court system enhancements, improvement of judicial response, prosecutorial response, and the response of all of the other actors in the court system, such as court administrators, court clerks, bailiffs, and court centre staff. An overarching strategy for improvement should be victim-centred and focused on survivor safety above all. Specific strategies for the various justice system actors to improve the response to survivors follow.

Working with the Ministry of Justice to improve response to survivors

The Ministry of Justice is responsible for an effective, impartial, and accessible justice system. In many states, the Ministry of Justice disseminates information about the legal system to legal professionals and to all citizens. It may also advise Parliament on legal matters, draft laws and amendments, and administer legal assistance programmes. The Ministry of Justice often provides oversight of courts, commissions, and prosecutors. It is often the liaison between the executive branch and the judicial branch. It has the power to reach beyond the courtroom or court building to implement broad strategies to improve the justice system response to survivors.

Establish a culture of accountability

The Ministry of Justice should support a zero-tolerance policy on violence against women and girls. When a justice system provides swift and sure punishment for acts of violence, it conveys the message to society that violence against women and girls is not acceptable, deflects shame from the victim, and may deter future acts of violence. Ministries should:

  • Establish prosecution and sentencing guidelines. Women and girl victims of violence need assurance that their case will receive the same resources as non-gender-based violence cases and that the perpetrators will be subject to the same sentencing guidelines as perpetrators of non-gender-based violence cases.
  • Monitor the decisions of judges and prosecutors to ensure compliance with the guidelines
  • Promote the possibility for Ministries to appeal acquittals or inappropriate sentences.
  • Provide public awareness on successful prosecutions of violence against women and girls by issuing regular media updates.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to ending gender violence by sponsoring policy forums and technical exchanges between countries.

Ensure development of legislative support and monitoring systems

  • Ministries should develop, in consultation with justice sector professionals and NGOs, protocols, policies, and guidelines to implement legislative provisions on violence against women and girls.
  • Ministries should work to coordinate across sectors and with other ministries who may be responsible for certain elements of the justice system. For example, survivor support personnel may be educated under the supervision of the Ministry for Social Services and not the Ministry of Justice. Addressing these challenges requires a vigorous commitment to cross-training.
Example: the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in Afghanistan involved a number of ministries and judicial sector stakeholders in the development of the Elimination of Violence against Women Commission. The working group created a multi-strategy plan covering legal awareness, access to justice, support for victims, compilation of statistics on violence against women, and strategies to improve the capacity and resources of the Commission.


Philippines – Supreme Court Leads in Reforming Court Management

After the Philippines experienced a peaceful revolution in 1986, the Supreme Court spearheaded systematic reforms in the justice sector aimed at restoring the credibility of the judiciary, enhancing efficiency in the justice sector, and increasing access to justice among marginalized populations. These reforms have important implications for women and girls who are victims of violence.

Several noteworthy aspects of judicial reform in the Philippines lend the effort particular longevity and credibility. First, the reform effort was conceived and implemented from “the top,” by the Supreme Court. Second, the reform programme was created with systemic challenges in mind. Both of these factors are important considerations for increasing access to the justice sector among women.

Beginning in 1987, the Supreme Court instituted reforms ranging from an early code of conduct, to increased training for judicial personnel, to the structural re-organization of courts. These early efforts set the stage for the Chief Justice’s 1998 policy paper on judicial reform, which later evolved into the more formal Action Program for Judicial Reform (APJR). The APJR, adopted by the Supreme Court in 2001, “established a coherent multiyear plan with priorities and cost estimates” as well as, significantly, “a programme management office to assure policy oversight, coordination, monitoring…and follow-up actions” (Asian Development Bank, 2009). The action plan was slated to last from 2001 to 2006 and targeted the following areas: judicial management systems and structures, the independence and accountability of the judiciary, personnel management, training and development, professional ethics, and access to justice by marginalized groups.

The Supreme Court specifically examined access to justice among women. Through a joint United Nations Development Program (UNDP) study, it was found that gender biases in the court system impede women’s access to justice even though women’s rights are evidenced in the legal framework. Broadly speaking, the report found that:

The main manifestations of gender bias against women in the court system are (a) the negative attitudes toward female victims and offenders; (b) trivialization of sexual and domestic violence, where women are often judged as having provoked the violence or seduced the rapist; (c) gender-insensitive court procedures; (d) gender stereotypes affecting court action; and (e) under-representation of women in the courts.

In order to address the gender biases uncovered in the report, the Supreme Court drafted an action plan to mainstream gender in the judiciary system. The plan encompassed gender-sensitivity training for judges and other judiciary personnel, incorporating gender issues into the curriculum at law schools, making courts gender-responsive, and establishing certain mechanisms and committees intended to further the goal of a gender-responsive judiciary. One particularly significant aspect of the plan involved the compulsory allocation of a certain percentage of the judiciary budget for gender programmes.

While the Supreme Court’s gender mainstreaming action plan is likely to have a direct impact on women’s access to justice, other judiciary reforms are also likely to have a long-term, albeit more indirect impact, on women’s access to the justice sector.

For instance, long delays and congestion in court often prevent women and girls who have been victims of violence from accessing justice. To address court efficiency, the Supreme Court re-organized court jurisdictions and areas of specialization with an eye to achieving timely justice and efficacy. The Office of Court Administration (OCA) was re-organized in order to decrease delays, and a large project of decentralization was undertaken to transfer court administration functions to regional offices. Furthermore, court management systems were computerized in the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Courts of Tax Appeals, and Sandiganbayan (special courts that investigate graft). Taken together, these reforms resulted in the courts’ ability to handle an increased caseload (Asian Development Bank, 2009).

In addition to issues of efficiency, perceptions of or actual corruption and lacking integrity of the judiciary also discourage women and girls who have experienced violence from accessing justice. In order to increase public confidence in the judiciary, the Supreme Court adopted a code of conduct for judiciary professionals in 2004. The Philippine Judiciary Academy conducts training on the ethics code, and enforcement is done through the OCA. This code of ethics is upheld through positive and negative reinforcement, with the Supreme Court “imposing sanctions for misconduct” and providing “positive incentives to improve performance, such as judicial excellence awards.” (Asian Development Bank, 2009).

Aftermath and Impacts:

Although the APJR ended in 2006, the Supreme Court continued to enact APJR-inspired reforms as of 2009. Most recently, for instance, reforms aimed at improving access to justice produced the Justice on Wheels Program. These mobile courts will not only bring justice to remote villages but will also fulfill human rights education and outreach functions. Other APJR reforms, such as the continuing decentralization of court administration, have also continued past 2006.

Although some of the issues continue to need improvement within the Filipino judiciary system, the continuation of reforms beyond the APJR speaks to the role of the Supreme Court in the formulation of the reform plan as well the systematic nature of the effort.

With regard to women’s access to justice, both a systematic effort and leadership from the top are important factors in effecting change. As mentioned previously, reforms in both the “access to justice” area and areas such as efficiency and accountability ultimately play a role in increasing women’s access to the justice sector. As a result, a systematic reform campaign is important in addressing the multidimensional barriers women face in accessing justice.

Furthermore, leadership from the Supreme Court was important in lending the reform effort an air of legitimacy and seriousness. UNDP. 2003. Promoting Gender Sensitivity in the Philippine Court System in the Philippines.


  New Code of Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary [annotated] (USAID, ABA-ROLI, Supreme Court of the Philippines, 2007). Available in English.

Ministries should develop and sustain the capacity to obtain statistics on the prevalence of violence against women and girls through large-scale, dedicated surveys or smaller modules within other health or demographic surveys. Ministries should require the criminal justice system to disaggregate law enforcement and crime data by gender, age, and relationship to enhance its usefulness in tracking violence against women. If there are types of violence that are regionally-relevant, such as dowry-related deaths, ministries should require data collection on these issues as well. For more on quantitative data collection, see the Monitoring of Laws section of the Legislation module.

Ministries should develop independent monitoring systems for the performance of judges and prosecutors. Ministries should work with professionals from the justice sector and NGOs who work with victims to develop the system, but the system should operate independently of any of the actors which developed it.

Ministries should allocate sustainable funding to the education of law students on international human rights standards and additional training for judges and prosecutors on human rights standards and their application to cases of violence against women.


Justice Reform and Gender (INSTRAW and DCAF, 2008). Available in English.

Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice: Resource Manual (International Centre for Criminal Law Reform, 1999). Section IV provides sentencing guidelines and policy recommendations for sentencing cases of violence against women. Available in English and French.

Broadening the Concept of “Justice” for Women and Girl-Survivors of Conflict Violence (Avon Global Center 2010 Women and Justice Conference).  See the video.

Six-Point Checklist on Justice for Violence Against Women (Amnesty International, 2010.) Available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese.