21 September 20204 minute read

Pro Bono Q&A: the Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University

DLA Piper is proud to have provided research support to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security in producing a report documenting challenges to women’s access to justice amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The report, which also makes recommendations on ways to push back against threats to progress – including access to justice institutions, rising intimate partner violence, growing injustice for women workers and discriminatory laws –  was published in June 2020 by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women); International Development Law Organization (IDLO); United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); and Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies. DLA Piper associates Jean Gabat and Claire Rucker assisted with research for the report. Jean is a Krantz Fellow, one of two DLA Piper associates who spend their first year at the firm working exclusively on pro bono matters.

Here, we talk with Jeni Klugman, Managing Director of the Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University, and lead author on the report.

Q: Explain the genesis for this report.

Jeni Klugman: From the earliest stages of the pandemic, it was clear that the impacts of massive shutdowns and disruptions were having disparate effects on women and men and exacerbating income and other inequalities. I had authored a global assessment of women’s access to justice in 2019 – and was asked by UN Women and IDLO to do a rapid assessment of pandemic impacts.  The initial idea was that it would be a 10-15 page report – but it turned out that the impacts were so far-reaching that we needed to undertake a much more extensive assessment.  Especially since the timeline was so tight – the report was drafted within a four week period – I was very happy when Sara Andrews and the team at DLA Piper’s New Perimeter volunteered two great DLA Piper associates, Jean Gabat and Claire Rucker, to work with me to understand what was a very rapidly evolving situation.  We also got great contributions from folks at the Vance Center and Penal Reform International, who are on the frontlines of this work, as well as insights from staff at the international agencies that published the report.

Q: What about the report’s findings stands out to you the most? 

Jeni: While the reports of rising intimate partner violence was a major concern, what stood out to me was understanding how the shutdown of the judicial system affects women who rely on court orders for a range of orders – to ensure their safety and protection through financial support.  Another striking point is that many poor women around the world – as well as poor men, though to a lesser extent – lack access to the mobile technology needed to operate in the virtual reality to which the world shifted, literally overnight.  So, while we may all have been in the same storm, we are not, as others have been observed, in the same boat. 

On a more positive note, it was also striking how a range of civil society organizations were responding so rapidly to the challenges – from providing toilet paper in prisons to SEWA’s work in India with women working in the informal sector to innovative solutions offering direct help to survivors of violence through helplines and emergency services that do not require cell phones and internet access. 

Q: The report includes ten-point recommendations to ensure a healthy justice system. For those who want to help, what do you suggest could make the strongest initial impact?

Jeni: I hope the report helped to capture the challenges and outline the ways in which the needs of women should be deliberately considered.

I think all the recommendations are important – but especially protecting women deprived of their liberty and ensuring that interim orders are available to ensure access to justice and protection during the crisis.

More broadly, for individuals who want to help advance this agenda, I would suggest a two-pronged approach.  First, ensure that elected decision-makers take the needs of disadvantaged groups into account to offset the fact that the worst off are facing the heaviest burdens and disruptions.  Second, support civil society groups that are listening to, serving and advocating for marginalized groups that have been hardest hit.