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Political nature of reform projects

Last edited: December 20, 2011

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For many reasons, reform of the justice sector around violence against women can become highly politicized. Access to justice is a form of power, and changing the ways in which women can access justice can be perceived as changing the power dynamics between men and women in a given community. Changing the way in which informal mechanisms operate may also be viewed as undermining solidarity in a community and thus changing power dynamics vis à vis state structures or other communities.

Example: in Zimbabwe civil society groups found that simply using the term “human rights” was perceived as an expression of support for one political party. As a result, workshops had to focus on “leadership” and “dignity” instead of human rights.

Especially in communities that self-identify as a minority or indigenous groups, there can be tension between promotion of the rights of women as individuals and the perceived value of certain justice practices to group harmony and unity.  However, all justice systems should always promote women and girls’ right to be free from violence. Also, changing norms around violence against women can negatively impact on the livelihoods of some community members. This is often seen when practices that are harmful to women, such as FGM, are banned and traditional practitioners lose their source of income and prestige in the community. This can never be an excuse to continue the harmful practice but should be a factor to consider in strategic development of an effective plan. Programme planners who are aware of these political dynamics and account for them in their strategy development will achieve a larger degree of success in promoting positive change. For example, former FGM practitioners can be employed to publicize the harmful effects of FGM instead or be trained to earn an alternative income.