Women and justice: if has it changed, how it has changed, the relationship between a constant (access to justice) and many variables (the rights which underpin it).

Modern legislation incorporates values. Applied to women  - in the exercise of rights as seen from a woman’s point of view - these must get rid of all discriminatory legislation which prevents the promotion of effective parity.

Women have legitimate political aspirations. By and large, today, they participate in setting legislation as MPs, in practising the law as lawyers, in the application and interpretation of the law as magistrates; and certainly women have recourse to criminal, civil and administrative justice to affirm their freedom and the freedom of their bodies, and to exercise fully their rights.

Starting with the grim matter of male violence against women, we need to ask ourselves if the mechanisms and institutions which are supposed to prevent, protect and punish are adequate, and furthermore, designed to deal with a culture which threatens the efficacy of the rules and makes a mockery of women’s efforts to promote new legislation.

This new legislation, to be just, must be easily accessible to women; otherwise, we will see guarantees evaporate and real gender equality will be compromised.

The obstacles are many and varied: social, cultural, economic and structural. We must first try to reduce and, where possible, eliminate, those of an economic nature, through means to support the recourse to justice.

In this vein, recent legislation against gender violence, which extends the access to legal aid, independently of income, for victims of stalking, domestic violence and genital mutilation is welcome.

Also of considerable importance are the right to paid leave for women victims of gender violence, which is recognised in one of the Government circulars on recent employment legislation, and the private and public money spent on projects to prevent and fight the phenomenon. 

Women also more seek access more often to the justice system to fight discrimination at the workplace, to ensure that protection of gender equality is recognised and effectively applied in training, access to jobs, work pay and conditions, career and social security. 

This access should now be made easier by the work of the “Equality Councillors”, at regional and/or provincial level, who are nominated by the Ministry of Employment and have the status of public officials, but who still encounter many difficulties. These councillors, who should act in the judicial process as defenders of women, receive economic resources which are distributed on the basis of complex and perverse mechanisms, often late and totally inadequate to their needs; notwithstanding the European legislation of the Directive 54/2006, transposed by decree, which has made these councillors protagonists in the fight against gender violence.

A very useful instrument to increase women’s access to justice, in particular for those with less education, independence and freedom, has been the building of a virtuous network of institutions, associations, economic and social actors involved in an intense activity of direct consultation through “listening counters”. The high number of requests for help are answered with the knowledge that they are only the tip of the iceberg of a much larger hidden reality.

An attempt to bring to light as many violations of fundamental rights as possible and to protect the rights at the work place (maternity, sexual harassment) is being made through a project promoted by the Prime Minister’s Office in collaboration with UNAR, which has the purpose of providing legal counsel to women of insufficient means who do not have the right to legal aid, in cases where judicial intervention is necessary to ascertain discriminatory behaviour against them.

The project is carried out in conjunction with the Consiglio Nazionale Forense, which is more and more active in sustaining and promoting initiatives which allow women to speak out and be protagonists in the courts of law, in the workplace, in their families and in society as a whole.