Women accessing rights: constraints and benefits of non formal legal systems


Women's empowerment is a common feature of development discourse in developing nations such as Pakistan. Strategies employed to promote the concept vary in nature and focus. The success of any given strategy depends not just on how well it is implemented, but more importantly on the stability and nature of power structures of the judicial, political and social systems in question. This paper examines the complex nature of Pakistan’s non formal justice mechanisms and women’s access to these forums to determine relevant obstacles and actions which may affect women’s empowerment initiatives. The research sought to explore the legal arena as a means of empowerment by covering state sponsored institutions, private bodies providing aid and access to the formal legal system, and informal means of resolution. Each forum comes with its own set of functional and bureaucratic problems which are detrimental to the general population, but some of these concerns can further be categorized as gender and class specific. Social pressures, cultural biases and women’s economic standing are also factors which fit into this compound equation. However, the most critical problem seems to be the power structures which women inhabit. Although many development strategies make use of the legal arena in the hopes of providing more control to the socially disenfranchised over their lives, it seems most are ill equipped to tackle power dynamics at play. The assertion is, that without recognizing how power is socially constituted, efforts towards providing access to justice will not translate into meaningful transformation in women’s lives.


WEMC Working Paper, 20 pp.

Women accessing rights: constraints and benefits of non formal legal systems

Published 1 January 2010