The Chief Justice, Her Ladyship Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, has entreated that women issues be given the maximum attention at both the national and international levels, to enhance the gender justice system in the development of the African continent.
According to the Chief Justice, most women faced intense marginalisation in the society, and had become vulnerable, as their needs are not given the desired consideration, thereby inhibiting equitable and sustainable development in Africa.
“Human development, if not engendered, is endangered,” the Chief Justice intimated, as she requested that laws be demystified and made available to women, most especially.
“The legal maxim that presumes everybody to know the law is a fiction, and has no place in Africa, where majority of the population is illiterate,” Justice Wood emphasised.
Justice Wood was addressing a-three-day international conference of Partners for Gender Justice (PGJ) in Accra, last Wednesday, on the theme: “The role of the Judiciary in Promoting Gender Justice in African Countries.”
The conference brought together about sixty judges from Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Benin, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, among others.
The conference was organised by the Judicial Service of Ghana, and jointly assisted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the International Legal Consortium (ILAC), the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) and the Brandeis University in the United States of America (USA). Participants of the three-day conference are expected to explore the role of the judiciary in promoting gender justice, as well as share experiences, provide best practices to adopt and identify specific needs of the judiciaries in Africa.
Chief Justice Georgina Wood noted that even though women take centre stage in food production in Africa, they are consigned to inferior statuses, as a result of culture, tradition and religion, and given less attention.
“Women are at the centre of production, but at the periphery of benefits. Women count, but are not counted,” she espoused. The Chief Justice asserted that in spite of the modest gains made by the efforts of governments, Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations and development partners, in promoting gender justice in most African countries, entrenched gender inequalities still persist.
She indicated that the justice system had often gone against women as a result of the high level of illiteracy in Africa, stressing that most national constitutions, laws and international conventions, as well as instruments and protocols among others, which sought to promote equality between men and women had become an illusion.
“Although there are constitutional and other statutory provisions that on paper afford women a fair measure of protection, policies, procedures and practices often prevent women from the full and equal enjoyment of these rights and privileges, and hinder them from accessing justice,” Justice Wood noted.
The Chief Justice further indicated that Ghana's judiciary had taken steps to ensure that its theme for the next couple of year, “Access to Justice,” becomes a reality, emphasising that the establishment of some courts within the metropolis, to exclusively handle juvenile justice and other family law related issues pertaining to women and children, was one of the strategies employed in promoting gender justice in the country.
She, therefore, commended the Legal Aid Board and the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service, for ensuring that the vulnerable, mostly women, have access to justice, as well as gender activist organisations in the country for their contribution towards the promotion of gender justice.
The PGJ was an initiative launched in 2004, as an informal partnership of interested state actors, NGOs, United Nations actors, international and regional organisations, and academic institutions interested in promoting gender justice.
This initiative is aimed at shaping a more coordinated and integrated system of collaboration, to help national stakeholders achieve gender justice and the contribution of the international community in supporting local ownership of the programme.
It is further committed to developing a framework of programmes that focus on strengthening gender justice in Africa, and respond to the needs of societies concerned.
The conference followed similar ones held in South Africa (March 2007), Liberia (October 2006), Dakar (January 2006) and Accra (October 2007).
Cataloguing the various programmes the UNDP had put in place in ensuring gender justice in the country, the Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in Ghana, Mr. Daouda Toure, expressed his appreciation to the improvement Ghana had made over the years, in enhancing gender justice.
According to him, as women suffer enormously in conflict situations in Africa, there was the need for all stakeholders to adopt new strategies in the administration of justice.
In her remarks, Ms. Yasmine Sherif, Senior Justice and Security Sector Reform Advisor, on behalf of Ms. Kathleen Cravero, Director and Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery of UNDP, noted that there was the need for gender justice, as women had not been given leadership roles in society until recently, but often subjected to violent attacks and discriminatory policies.
She, therefore, called on the participants to study the challenges facing women in accessing gender justice, and develop strategies aimed at solving the situation and making a difference in the lives of women throughout the world.