Access to Justice
The HIV epidemic magnifies violations of women’s human rights and heightens their vulnerability to HIV. Sexual and reproductive health rights may be inadequately protected. Measures addressing links between gender-based violence and HIV may be missing. When women cannot claim inheritance and property rights, they may lose land and shelter vital to their survival, as in cases where male relatives die from AIDS. Legislation or the lack of it, biased legal and customary practices, limited legal services and lack of awareness of rights can all stand in the way of HIV-affected women seeking and accessing justice. Criminal laws may impede women from pursuing HIV prevention, treatment and care.
A primary strategy for UN Women in expanding access to justice is to promote the legal empowerment of women living with and affected by HIV, including through new knowledge, skills and services. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, a partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency has awarded small grants to 20 diverse grass-roots initiatives working on women’s property and inheritance rights. In nine countries, the initiative has trained and sensitized more than 650 community leaders, 650 paralegals and 9,000 community members on upholding women’s property and inheritance rights under constitutional and customary laws, in areas such as land titling, succession planning and will writing. This has helped increase the accessibility and availability of legal services, and enhance women’s legal literacy.
In Zimbabwe, a UN Women partner, Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Education Trust, operates mobile legal aid clinics that travel to marginalized rural and urban areas, reaching HIV-affected women who know little about the law and cannot afford legal advice. The clinics help them understand their legal rights and learn critical skills, such as how to write and register a will. To keep expanding awareness, 18 empowerment circles regularly bring women together to support each other by sharing what they have learned. Specialized help desks are now available for women who journey to the High Court and the Magistrate’s Court in Harare.
In Tanzania, the Maasai Women Development Organization has trained district land authorities in five villages on making land registry documents available to women. To date, 500 women have applied for land title deeds in their names; in one village, 200 plots were awarded to women.
As part of improving overall access to justice for women affected by HIV, UN Women helps countries develop greater capacities to integrate the issue into measures to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Training on the convention for HIV-positive women leaders in Indonesia, for instance, has helped advocates articulate gender perspectives as part of the review of national HIV planning. As a result, the Indonesia National HIV and AIDS Strategy and Action Plan 2010–2014 highlights attention to women, and stresses the role of men in responding to AIDS, including through caregiving. Indonesia’s subsequent report to the Committee on CEDAW provided data on women and HIV, and information on stigma, prevention, treatment and knowledge about HIV.