TEDx Talk on Access to Justice

I wanted to share a fantastic TEDx talk I just encountered focused on why you should care about access to justice. I think he articulates, pretty well, why I think access to justice is simply so important and why governments should prioritize and fund legal services for the poor. I also loved his idea of a universal legal services/access to justice fund; though I don’t think we’re there politically, it sounds like a fantastic suggestion.


New World Bank Working Paper on Paralegals in Philippines

A great new World Bank Justice & Development Working Paper has been published by Jennifer Franco, Hector Soliman, and Maria Roda Cisnero, focusing on community based paralegalism in the Philippines. The abstract is as follows:

Community-based paralegalism has been active in the Philippines for the past 30 years, and yet its contribution to access to justice and the advancement of the rights and entitlements of the poor has been largely undocumented. This paper attempts to provide a framework study on the history, nature, and scope of paralegal work in the Philippines, based on the experience of 12 organizations that are active in the training and development of community-oriented paralegals. The study first provides a working definition of a community-based paralegal, and then examines the work of paralegals, their systems of accountability or lack thereof, and issues regarding recognition by the state and civil society actors. It also explores facilitating and hindering factors that aid or impinge upon the paralegals’ effectiveness. A major contributor to the work of paralegals was the democratization process after the overthrow of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and the continuing evolution of legal rights spurred by the relatively progressive constitution ratified in 1987. Three dimensions of paralegal’s work are identified and explored, namely, building rights awareness, settling private disputes, and increasing state and corporate accountability. The study ends with conclusions and recommendations with regard to sustainability, monitoring and evaluation, funding, and the prospects for paralegal work over the long term.

There is some excellent analysis here of the long-term paralegal movement in the Philippines, as well as recognition of paralegals by the state and some thorny issues that arise when working in the context of violence against women — my specific interest.


Interview with Dr. Keerty Nakray on Gender Violence in India

KeertyToday, I am excited to introduce Dr. Keerty NakrayAssociate Professor and Assistant Director, Centre for Women, Law and Social Change at the Jindal Global Law Schoolwho has kindly taken time to speak with me about gender violence, budgeting and potential solutions in India. She has worked extensively on issues relating to gender violence, public health, and budgeting in India. Thanks so much to Dr. Nakray for her insights and valuable thoughts!

1. Tell me more about yourself. What led you to focus on gender violence, budgeting, and public health research and teaching?

My research interests have been shaped consistently over the last decade due to solid training in social theory and fieldwork in different parts of India. As a master’s student, I undertook field based research on reproductive and child health (RCH) in the rural areas of Maharastra, and that is the time I realized that most RCH policies leave women untouched. That was the turning point in my life, as I developed a strong interest in policy research, and thereafter I was clear that I will pursue specialist studies in that field. After working for one year closely with specific child welfare centric social policies that entailed working closely with children and their families, this commitment to pursue further studies was deepened. Following this work experience, I studied planning and development at Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, which again entailed an excellent mix of theory and field work, and it gave me a solid foundation to pursue a PhD. In IIT the topic of my dissertation was on gender budgeting and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (which is an education programme) in India; for the first time I realized that financial resources allocated to various developmental programmes were woefully low. Much of these experiences led to the culmination of my PhD research on gender budgets, social policy and HIV/AIDS in India. With each academic turn I took in life my respect for human life has deepened, and I uphold human rights at every level of my life, which has a profound impact on my research as well.

2. Gender based violence is such a complex and multifaceted problem, especially in India. Through your research, what do you see as the key obstacles to ending gender based violence in India?

Yes, indeed gender based violence is an extremely complex problem with clear roots in the patriarchal cultural ethos in the country. Unless there are substantial cultural changes along with greater empowerment of women through education and economic participation I see very little hope for women in India.

3. What do you see as a potential models or solutions to combat gender violence and empower women in India?

Better economic participation in the formal sectors of the country is likely to contribute to improving women’s status in the society.

4. What is the role of the government in combating violence against women? The role of NGOs? The international community?

Government’s role is at heart of interventions for gender based violence as it can really commit to women’s issues on legislative grounds of substantive equality. The international community should help the Indian government to develop its capabilities to undertake policy orientated research. The NGOs can potentially inform government interventions. I do believe that violence interventions should not be left solely to NGOs as the current levels of violence against women are completely unacceptable and cannot be addressed by NGOs.

5. I know you have done much research on gender budgeting. Can you talk a little about the importance of and impact of budgeting on issues of women’s rights in India?

Budgeting for women’s rights is about theoretically recognizing structural impediments to the realization of women’s citizenship in our society. Within the last five years I have seen more government officials more seriously talking about gender, however the needed structural shift has not taken place and changes taking place in women’s status is more to do with better education and need for women’s skilled labour in a rapidly growing Indian economy — and very little to change in laws or policies.

6. Does part of ending violence against women involves a shift in attitudes? If so, how can we move towards changing mindsets?

That is too easy an answer to a difficult question. Much of the violence against women is rooted in the systemic organization of our social institutions, and this violence is increasingly becoming invisible with an attempt to push women away from positions of power. I feel that unless we recognize that women’s identity is not only shaped by their gender but also intersects with their racial, religious, caste and ethnic identities. I have seen violence specifically targeted at women from marginalized groups and with little or no sympathy from women’s from privileged locations. I do not see a shift in women’s position happening unless current power hierarchies are pushed to substantive equality.


Incredible reminder on the violence of success & prestige

Please watch the above TEDx Talk by Alok Vaid-Menon. Then digest. And share. He provides some much needed reminders to reconsider how we view success in this world, and what it truly will take to contribute to social justice and social change. Some of my favorite quotes: Should you desire to be successful you will not actuallyContinue Reading


New article on legal empowerment in Bangladesh!

I am truly excited to announce my very first published paper! I’ve been working on this paper since 2012, when I spent two months in Bangladesh researching BRAC’s expansive and community-based legal aid and legal empowerment program, and particularly its impact on women’s rights. I’m very happy to say that my piece has been publishedContinue Reading


Legal aid as a right: India’s example

This past January, I had the fortune of researching Muslim women’s legal rights under family law and inheritance law, as well as civil laws relating to domestic violence, child marriage, and dowry in India. It was a fantastic learning experience, and what I learned about India truly impressed me. India has some incredible laws onContinue Reading


Equality Now’s new report on child marriage

As part of a legal report I’m currently writing covering Muslim women’s legal rights in India, I have had to deal with the considerable and overlapping laws relating to child marriage, as well as the reality and commonality of child marriage here in India. This new report by international women’s rights organization, Equality Now, “ProtectingContinue Reading


Reflections on “the field”

I’ve just started a brief project in India, but I’ve immediately noticed the use of the word “field” here; it’s pervasive, and refers to going to the more rural Indian villages that projects are based in and where ‘beneficiaries’ (another jargony word I don’t love) are located. However, the word “field” is just as muchContinue Reading


New Year Reflections: 2013

This was a momentous year. I’d call it a marathon. It was a marathon – not necessarily (or at all) of the body – but of the soul, of the spirit, of the heart, of the brain. In all honesty, this year has left me fulfilled but also a bit exhausted, mentally and emotionally. It wasContinue Reading


The failed media representation of women

An excellent, albeit depressing video chronicling all the ways in which media representation of women this year has gone badly, badly wrong. Highlights so much change that needs to happen, and how media can powerfully influence society.