The scales of justiceNEW YORK, (WOMENSENEWS)–This was the week when Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her daughter in the explosive case in Florida and the New York hotel housekeeper struggled to keep alive a case of sexual assault against former IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss Khan.

If anyone considers these signs of women finding high-powered access to the legal justice system, UN Women offered a rebuttal this week, finding that women all too often drop charges and bow out of legal recourse efforts.

In its July 6 report, "Progress of the World’s Women in Pursuit of Justice," the new super women’s agency at the United Nations–which consolidated existing agencies and launched in February under former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet–probes the limits of local, national and international law in serving women and offers 10 recommendations.

One area of concentration is the problem of long "legal chains" or cases that involve numerous steps, delays and mounting costs that lead women to drop such efforts as enforcing property rights or protecting themselves from domestic violence.

Authors found that women in developed and developing countries alike face this hurdle.

In Gauteng Province in South Africa, for instance, a lengthy, expensive legal process coincides with an extremely low conviction rate–4 percent–for reported rapes. That echoes a 2009 survey of four European countries, where conviction rates fall as low as 5 percent.

Another example came from this week’s news run when the Associated Press reported July 7 that hundreds of Ugandan women protested the second postponement of two lawsuits brought by families of women who died giving birth, reflecting the judicial system’s inability to intercede on behalf of maternal health.

To expedite women’s law suits, UN Women’s authors recommend "one stop shops" currently found in South Africa–known as Thuthuzela Care Centers–that have reduced trial completion time to seven months from a national average of two years and are being replicated in countries such as Chile and Ethiopia.

Other suggestions include extending laws to household life to prevent domestic violence, escalating research and awareness of domestic sexual violence, supporting quotas for female representation in politics and courts and implementing laws such as Sweden’s non-transferable "daddy months," or paternal leave, that narrowed the pay gap there.

The recommendations work within the framework of the 1979 Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW, and the Millennium Development Goals, global promises made in 2000 to be reached by 2015.

Authors emphasize that governments and communities must be held accountable to the development commitments they have made to girls and women.

But when reporters pressed Bachelet at a July 6 press conference for ways UN Women is pushing countries’ accountability, she offered no specifics. "It’s not only about meeting with countries," she responded. It’s about "encouraging decision-making authority for women. . . We have to work with the judicial system."

Marley Gibbons is an editorial intern for Women’s eNews.

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