Photo Credit: Robyn Jay. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (Accessed via UN University Webpage)
On Thursday, February 25th, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security (GIWPS), in partnership with the Georgetown Ambassadors for Women, Peace and Security, hosted the second of their five-part webinar series focused on increasing gender equality. The event, entitled Making the Law Work for Women, engaged panelists from three continents who shared their gender-related initiatives.
The panel was moderated by Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Executive Director of GIWPS. The panel included H.E. Margot Wallström, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, Ms. Kateryna Pavlichenko, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Mr. Charles-Guy Makongo, Former Country Director, Democratic Republic of the Congo, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, and Trisha Shetty,the founder and CEO of the Indian non-profit SheSays.
Ambassador Verveer began the event emphasizing the importance of gender equity and stressing the value of hearing from key voices on system, state, and grassroots levels. Dr. Anisya Fritz, CEO and co-founder of LynnCo Supply Chain Solutions, subsequently discussed the inextricable link between women’s peace and security and economic development. She argued that security and development are more successful when women are involved in the process.
Next, Dr. Klugman discussed the importance of legal rights of women for their health, social mobility, and global prosperity. Dr. Klugman is the primary author of the Beijing+25,[i] a recent report highlighting ways to progress in global gender equality authored by GIWPS in partnership with Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and support from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Through the sharing of figures on the improving trends in women’s legal status and repealing of discriminatory laws from 1970-2020, Dr. Klugman emphasized there have been hundreds of legal reforms that allow for protection of women. She shared that most countries now have laws addressing domestic violence against women including, 30 of the 54 African countries and half of the countries in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Dr. Klugman argues policy makers and leaders in the field must work to bridge the gap between law and practice, specifically focusing on gender and domestic violence in regions like South Asia, which has the highest regional level of domestic and gender-based violence.
Dr. Klugman then shared four pathways for the successful implementation of policy ideals: implementing government reforms and expanding the representation of women in the justice system, supporting the efforts of community leaders, engaging in social media campaigns, and allocating adequate resources to accelerate equality for women.
Ambassador Verveer next turned to Minister H.E. Margrot Wallstrom to discuss best practices for bridging the gap between law and practice as it relates to gender equality. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden and first United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict said: “Violence against women is a matter of comparing failures.” Minister Wallstrom used the COVID19 response and the cascading crises of the pandemic as another example of international inaction, and failure.
The Minister continued by sharing her women’s equity comprehensive to-do list which includes facing the reality that violence against women is pervasive and spans all social classes, changing the laws to protect victims of violence, and establishing necessary institutions and agencies for evidence-based advice on gender issues.
The Minister stressed the importance of “engaging men and changing attitudes.” She continued, “[We must] discuss prostitution and what makes women’s bodies a commodity— something you can use and abuse as much as you like.” She concluded by stating: “We need political will and political steer” to ensure the wills of equality steer the new direction and that through feminist foreign policy she thinks the world “can fight this global scourge of violence against women.”
Ambassador Verveer echoed the statements of Minister Wallstrom and agreed there is a “need for comprehensive and updated legislation.” The Ambassador underscored the importance of the advocacy community to hold officials accountable and generate the political will to ensure that gender equality and the protection of abuse victims remains a policy priority.
Before turning the next panelist, Kateryna Pavlichenko, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the Ambassador shared a video highlighting the role of women in Ukrainian law enforcement. The Ambassador then asked the Deputy Minister to discuss her approach to encouraging public trust of law enforcement.
During the livestream, the Deputy Minister discussed the importance of gender representation in law enforcement as a contributor to an increase in public trust. She highlighted the role of media campaigns for equitable recruitment, gender-based law enforcement training and human resource policies to ensure men and women are treated fairly and equitably represented. Through their various campaigns and reforms the Deputy Minister explained, compared to the 2020 figures, the number of women in agencies in the Ministry of Internal Affairs increased by 4.4% in 2021.
As Chair of the Board of the Ukrainian Association of Women in Law Enforcement (UAWLE), Deputy Minister Pavlichenko stated she sees the Association as a national platform to support and promote to share experiences, breakdown stereotypes, and focus on gender equality. She stated: “Greater visibility and engagement of women at all levels will contribute to increased trust and confidence in law enforcement in local communities as a whole.” Though the Deputy Minister explained Ukraine is “not at the finish line yet,” it is looking at ways to respond more effectively toward gender-based violence to increase prevention methods through campaigns, activism, and online tools and training. Through the efforts of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the UAWLE, the Deputy Minister believes there is an increase in trust and confidence in law enforcement: there was a 47% increase in domestic violence calls from 2019 to 2020.
Ambassador Verveer then asked the Deputy Minister about one salient lesson that government and civil society can learn from her gender-focused work. The Deputy Minister explained the key to making the law work for women is increasing awareness of the law, developing internal frameworks for incident response, changing legislation to better represent and protect women, and bringing together stakeholders to better counter discrimination and implement and enforce the protection of women.
Ambassador Verveer next turned to Mr. Charles-Guy Makongo, who discussed his legal work to counter gender-based violence and provide justice for victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo in partnership with IMA World Health. Mr. Makongo discussed the importance of clearly defining gender-based violence and providing articulate outlines for protections for survivors. He then explained the specific success mobile courts have had in providing access to justice for women in rural areas of the DRC.
Mr. Makongo explained the goal of the DRC mobile courts program is to “make sure that we raise awareness to public on new laws of DRC, emphasize the shame and stigma of sexual assault: on perpetrators and not on those that suffer the crimes.” Through the establishment of twenty mobile courts in rural communities supplemented by the training of law enforcement, lawyers, and judges, the stigma attached to the victims of sexual violence has diminished and the reports of assault across the DRC have increased, according to Mr. Makongo.
Through partnership with institutions, like USAID, the UN, and Lawyers without Borders, he has seen increased access to positive justice—explaining that even when impunity reigns, justice can be rendered. Mr. Makongo explained that even despite some security issues, his fight will continue and the lesson to be learned is that “justice [can be] brought to people in their area, despite challenges in the region.”
After lauding Mr. Makongo for his impactful work in the DRC, Ambassador Verveer transitioned to the final and youngest panelist, the grassroots advocate Trisha Shetty. As an introduction to Trisha’s work, the Ambassador shared a video[ii] that showcases the work of SheSays in India. Trisha began her intervention explaining her commitment to sharing India’s information and laws on gender-based and sexual violence with a widespread audience. Trisha explained her passion for the issue arose after she heard news of the tragic rape and murder of Nirbhaya.[iii]
Trisha explained, “[her] work is not revolutionary.” Instead, she is focused on disseminating information on the laws in India, providing support for victims, and empowering bystander intervention. She mentioned her hope for change in laws and policies spanning across India through political will and grassroots mobilization efforts. Though she did mention she admittedly fears burnout as the work in the field is challenging.
Ambassador Verveer, commended Trisha for her advocacy and work, thanking her for her commitment to justice for victims.
Upon thanking the esteemed panelists, the Ambassador concluded, despite the immense progress in policy reform, legal access, and grassroots efforts, there is work yet to be done as the “backlash of women’s rights is another barrier to confront.” Perhaps, this statement is a segue to the remainder of the series that will work to provide practical guidance to stand against violence committed against women and strive to make the law work for women across the globe.
[i] “CSW64 / Beijing 25 (2020): Commission on the Status of Women.” UN Women, March 2020,
[iii] Geeta Pandey, “Delhi Nirbhaya rape death penalty: What do hangings mean for India’s women?” BBC News, March 20, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-50812776.