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Women as Agents of Change in the Rule of Law


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Event Info:

February 22, 2018
USC School of Law

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The struggle for peace, justice, human rights and equality continues in much of the world, and women are increasingly serving as formidable change agents. On February 22, 2018, the Rule of Law Collaborative, in partnership with the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, University of South Carolina School of Law, and Mary Baskin Waters Lecture Series will host a symposium to examine the specific strategies women have employed to affect change in the rule of law. The symposium will enable women from various contexts around the world to share their experiences and lessons learned and form networks and connections.

Personal status, land, violence and insecurity, among many other issues, create conditions where many women must rely on the justice system and legal aid. Yet, for millions of women, including those in developed countries, the search for justice is fraught with difficulty and is often inaccessible, expensive and laws and legal systems continue to discriminate against them. The World Bank’s 2016 “Women, Business and the Law” Report found that women are treated equally under the law in less than a quarter of economies worldwide. Within conflict-affected countries, access to justice is further inhibited by war-devastated governmental infrastructure and increased violence, with women further victimized.  Judicial institutions often lack sensitivity about the experiences of women during or after periods of conflict, and treat violations of women’s rights as low priority compared to other crimes. At the same time, women professionals around the globe are under-represented in justice sector institutions and leadership positions, in particular.

It is also undeniable that women’s empowerment and participation is hampered by corruption and the lack of good governance. In many countries, corruption denies women their rights, prevents them from achieving their full potential and puts their safety and even their lives at risk. Unequal power relationships between men and women make women even more vulnerable to the impact of government and other forms of corruption, despite studies indicating that women themselves, compared to men, engage in far less corrupt activities.

For many millions of women around the globe, the reality is that justice remains out-of-reach.  To effectively tackle this issue it is essential to address the underlying gender inequalities present in all societies and empower women to advocate and lead the way the way for sustainable change. While the UN Sustainable Goals (SDG’s), specifically five and sixteen, recognize equal access to justice and participation have a central role to play in sustainable outcomes for women, there remains a long way to go to achieve this.


The symposium format is interactive to allow for dialogue between the moderator and panelists as well as with audience members. Panels are organized thematically and focus on the specific strategies women have used in the attainment of the following goals: I) Human Rights Education for All Women; II) Access to Justice; and III) Good Governance; and IV) Participation and Leadership in the Justice Sector.  The more women are made aware of their rights, the more empowered they are to seek justice, fight corruption and assume leadership positions. While there are no ready-made formulas as to how women can be empowered to assert their rights and act as agents of change, this symposium aims to draw the broader lessons that could be applicable across contexts.

Women from civil society, government, the judiciary, private sector, and multilateral organizations will be symposium panelists.  The focus will be on experiences of women from developing countries while also highlighting perspectives of women agents of change in the United States as many issues women in developing countries grapple with are also applicable in America.

A draft agenda is forthcoming.

Keynote Speech

A keynote speech by anti-apartheid activist, author, politician, academic, doctor, and businesswoman Dr. Mamphela Ramphele will precede the symposium, on February 21 at 5:030pm in the Karen J. Williams Courtroom, USC School of Law.