Equal access to justice means the right of individuals and groups to obtain a quick, effective and fair response to protect their rights, prevent or solve disputes and control the abuse of power through a transparent and efficient process, in which mechanisms are available, affordable and accountable, and conducted on the basis of equality. States have obligations under international law to ensure access to justice. Women’s access to justice is a legal and constitutional framework that guarantees women’s rights, but without education, awareness of rights and decision-making power, women are often unable to claim their rights, obtain legal aid or go to court.
In a procedural sense, access to justice means providing those seeking to secure their vested rights with the following: appropriate and understandable information about the scope of these rights and how to access them; a readily accessible infrastructure − in both the formal and practical sense − for acquiring this information and then acting upon it; the quality of the functioning of this infrastructure in practice; and the confidence in the utility and integrity of the infrastructure. To avoid secondary victimisation and stigmatisation of women during legal proceedings, a gender-sensitive approach is required.
A substantive aspect of justice focuses on ensuring that legal and judicial outcomes are themselves ‘just and equitable’.
See also: gender-sensitive mediation; legal aid
Based on CEDAW Committee (2013). Access to Justice – Concept Note for Half Day General Discussion, endorsed by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at its 53rd session.