Recently, the new post-2015 agenda has been determined — and it’s called The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  After advocacy by civil society organizations, the new 2030 agenda includes — for the first time — targets on justice and governance, recognizing the importance of fundamental rights, transparency, accountability, and access to justice to sustainable and stable societies.

Goal 16 is “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”  This goal, impressively, includes reducing all forms of violence; ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and violence against children; promoting the rule of law; ensuring equal access to justice for all; reducing corruption; developing effective, accountable, and transparent institutions; providing legal identity for all; strengthening national institutions; and promoting non-discriminatory laws and policies.

This is fantastic news and provides ample space to further develop metrics and more quantitative, detailed indicators for measuring progress.  There are, however, concerns — that the scope of the new targets in the 2030 agenda are too broad, and that it may be difficult to once again communicate the importance of these new goals to the world. Indeed, measurement might be particularly tricky: when it comes to justice and governance, there is often little consensus on even basic definitions.  What does it mean to promote the rule of law, to ensure ‘access to justice’ and to develop an accountable institution? A lot of aspects of justice systems can be complex, and there is not always a clear definition or indicator of these terms. But this is now an opportunity to discuss and develop some sort of consensus on these issues — and actually make concrete progress and put real international commitments towards making access to justice and governance a reality.



In the worldwide movement to end domestic and gender-based violence, most efforts to combat violence against women and girls fall into two spheres: so-called prevention and response — similar to interventions in other realms, such as the healthcare field.

‘Prevention’ efforts approach gender violence with the idea that breaking down systems of patriarchy and oppression is the ultimate goal, and the root cause of gender violence. If we can disrupt the patriarchal order, we can begin to more effectively reduce and end gender violence. Many prevention efforts seek to change social and cultural norms as an attempt to reduce gender inequity. By changing patriarchal mindsets and attitudes – by shifting culture, which is never static – it may be possible to actually shift society in a more equitable direction. Many campaigns in the prevention realm thus focus on efforts such as: educating communities about domestic and gender-based violence; educating children on sexuality and healthy relationships; empowering women to be stakeholders and political leaders with power; changing unjust laws and policies and implementing better ones; and changing the portrayal of women in ads, mass media, music, and entertainment. Movement building and coalition building can also aid in challenging and changing unjust laws and structures that allow violence to perpetuate.

On the other hand, response is the area I have been largely focused on. As a (hopefully!) soon-to-be attorney, my mind is automatically drawn to solutions targeting the treatment of survivors after they have been abused. After being subject to abuse, are survivors they receiving the legal and social support and services they need? The response considers a holistic response to gender violence: legal aid and access to justice, safe housing, economic support and employment opportunity, childcare, protection by the police and an order of protection, social support and networks, and land/property rights. And on the criminal side, is the perpetrator apprehended, and ideally – rehabilitated?

In many ways, the ‘response’ is a limited solution, though. Response means the system has already failed the survivor at some level — she has been subject to abuse already. It also does not necessarily prevent the violence from being perpetrated again by the same abuser on the same victim/survivor, or a different one. However, research does indicate that access to a lawyer can increase the likelihood of obtaining an order of protection – and that about 86% of women who received a protection order or restraining order state that the abuse greatly reduced or stopped. At the least, then, the ‘response’ has a positive impact by reducing violence for the survivors who receive help; and at the most, taking action may have a deterrence effect on abusers who are prosecuted, experience the consequences of their actions, or obtain therapy/counseling to understand their behavior. In this way, ‘response’ can also be prevention in itself if it is implemented effectively.

The Response: Accessing Justice

Within the spectrum of responsive service delivery for survivors, access to justice is just one of the prongs. But interestingly, in one study comparing numerous social and legal service programs, only legal services was found to significantly reduce a woman’s likelihood of abuse – as noted above, in large part by facilitating the receipt of orders of protection – but also by providing the survivor with assistance on economic matters, thus increasing her financial stability and independence. Access to justice, then, has a measurable impact. It may not end domestic violence, but plays a vital role in ending domestic violence for survivors and may pay dividends to the extent that it can also increase defendant accountability.

The “justice” component really has two prongs:  civil and criminal.  Access to civil legal services can aid the survivor in moving forward and healing, and prevent further violence against her.  The criminal justice response, however, focuses largely on preventing the perpetrator from committing abuse again — and may have a broader deterrent effect, at the optimistic end.

Will access to justice end domestic violence in the world? Probably not; these efforts will need to be supplemented by the prevention components detailed above. But, can we end domestic violence without access to justice? It seems less likely.

Zooming out to the situation worldwide, there seem to be a few key barriers to effective access to justice, both civil and criminal.

1.  Lack of access to lawyers for the poor:

First, the poor – and survivors of gender-based violence – all too often lack access to a lawyer in civil cases. In the U.S., there is no ‘civil Gideon’ — no right for the poor to access a lawyer in civil cases.    This is the case in much of the world.  This makes access to a lawyer incredibly difficult for the poor, who face numerous — countless — barriers. These include the cost of hiring a lawyer, physical distance to a lawyer’s office or a court, the language barrier – particularly for those who are illiterate, as well as a ‘cultural barrier.’  I have seen firsthand how a survivor of domestic abuse in rural Bangladesh, for example, cannot easily go to an attorney. She faces numerous cultural barriers in that going to court may be seen as inappropriate and as taking a private, family matter ‘outside’ the allowed zone. This, then, becomes insolent behavior to be further punished. There is an informal, mandated culture of silent suffering for survivors of gender violence. In addition to this, lawyers are often seen as highly educated and in a different social class, and thus less relatable for low-income individuals. And finally, many communities utilize customary justice or alternative forms of dispute resolution, and may be unfamiliar with the formal legal institutions in place.

Solutions need to tackle increasing the number of trained lawyers and lawyers providing free services to the poor, and must make it more desirable for lawyers to provide justice for the poor. Currently, this is not a prestigious option in many countries. Incentives must be provided to attract more lawyers to this space – and salaries and job opportunities are key!   The most sustainable solution might be government-funded or subsidized legal aid. Other options are promoting paralegal corps to provide justice services at a lower cost, and in a form far more accessible to communities.

2.  Lack of appropriate laws in place:

But even where the poor have access to a lawyer, the right laws may simply not be in place. In the U.S. it is possible to generally obtain an order of protection, or to obtain sole custody of the children as a woman, or to obtain a divorce and equitable distribution of marital property including title to the marital home. Survivors of sexual assault can, generally, benefit from rape shield laws preventing prosecutors from inquiring into the survivor’s past sexual behavior. And those in a same-sex relationship can generally avail themselves of laws relating to GBV.  There are sexual harassment laws in place protecting one in the workplace.  In certain countries and regions, these laws may not exist. It is not always possible to obtain title to the marital home and avoid homelessness, or to shield inquiry into past sexual history. Marital rape remains legal in much of the world.  In such a situation, the just laws must be in place for access to justice to become a reality for survivors.  Without the laws, ‘justice’ is meaningless and in fact, impossible.

3. Systemic barriers in the justice system:

Formal justice systems are often not accessible for the poor due to systemic barriers — even if a survivor obtains a lawyer.  A single case can take years, even decades in an inefficient justice system with backlogs of thousands of cases.   Case backlogs may sound innocuous and technical, but they can be incredibly dangerous in allowing injustice to perpetuate.   Reports have documented that individuals are kept in pretrial detention for 10 or 15+ years, often because of inefficiencies and backlogs in the justice sector.  In addition, judges may not be well trained on the law, or may harbor patriarchal biases themselves. Finally, corruption in the system often prevents the poor from moving forward with their case, and contributes to backlogs.

4. Systemic barriers in police accountability:

Finally, prosecution or enforcing a restraining order can be effective only with the assistance of the police. In many places, police accountability and effectiveness is limited. The reasons are numerous: the police as an institution are often underfunded and lack the resources to track down offenders and implement the law, particularly in poor countries; the police may have poor training on dealing with gender violence cases; the police themselves may harbor patriarchal biases against intervening in gender violence cases; and the police may also be corrupt – sometimes a consequence of poor salary and support from the institution.  Without the help of the police, it can be near impossible to enforce the law and keep survivors safe. What is the solution? This one is a bit harder; it might require a combination of funding and training — and governments simply need to make it a priority to well-equip police to fight crime. More female police officers may also be a small part of the solution.

Ultimately, if these 4 barriers are addressed, access to justice can become much more a reality, even for poor survivors of gender-based violence.  While improving access to justice will not end violence, if it is implemented effectively, it can reduce it for survivors and may have a deterrence effect that is felt throughout society.


In recent conversations about gender violence, I have found myself thinking: what will it take to truly end domestic and gender-based violence? Currently, it seems like almost everything that needs to be done, is being done in some form or other across the world.

We have programs focused on prevention: on changing media representation of women, of improving education for girls and young boys about healthy relationships, and of changing social norms and challenging social stigma. We have a wealth of programs in the U.S. at least – and then around the world – focusing on urgent care and response for survivors, ensuring that survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault have access to the care and services they need to heal and move forward from the trauma. This can include everything from legal aid services to medical care to housing and economic empowerment for survivors and their families. Of course, these services never seem to be enough to meet the need, but they are there and they are being piloted across the world. We also have programs focused more on empowering survivors, through advocacy, activism, counseling, and healing processes. Next, organizations focus on changing the law — altering unjust laws that do not provide the requisite protection to women and girls, condoning violence and failing to adequately remedy it. And finally, we have programs and ideas focused on the batterer: prosecution, probation, and then batterers’ intervention programs.

In this past semester of law school, I have been delving into this research and taking a look at the initiatives out there to combat violence against women and girls, and to assess the gaps and where more contributions could be valuable. One area where I see the need is to address social stigma and lack of access to services, through the use of community-based paralegals/advocates who are trained laypeople able to build a supportive social network for survivors and also provide long-term accompaniment to survivors in accessing needed services. However, this still seems to be very much a service-delivery model, much like many out there, and may continue to emphasize the victimization of women and girls. I do think we need more models and initiative that are led by survivors themselves in order to combat dominant narratives and to truly ensure solutions are targeted towards survivors’ needs.

Dear readers: if you have any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions, please comment or send a note! What do you think is missing in the current landscape of programs targeting violence against women, worldwide? What is most needed, and where do the gaps lie? How can we make change in this space? And what will it truly take, in the end, to end men’s violence against women?


Now, here’s what I see as an example of genuinely good and thoughtful activism done by a celebrity.  Angelina Jolie is opening a center in the UK – at the London School of Economics – to study issues of sexual violence in conflict.

A four-day summit hosted by Jolie and Hague in June last year, as part of the UK government’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, resulted in a protocol signed by 151 countries and the LSE’s centre on women, peace and security is the latest step in trying to combat the use of rape as a weapon of war.

The groundbreaking LSE centre on women, peace and security will gather key thinkers, activists, policymakers and academics together in order to better tackle intransigent global problems such as the prosecution of warzone rapists and women’s engagement in politics.

 The center will be led by Christine Chinkin, a professor of law at LSE who works on gender-violence issues. It will also offer an MSc program in women, peace, and security starting in 2016.  A great initiative, which will actually further research, discourse, and policymaking to combat sexual violence in conflict.


This is not a travel blog.

And yet, I would be remiss not to share some photographs of my recent travels throughout Turkey, an incredibly beautiful country.

We explored the country from distant Cappadocia – with its fairytale mountains and chimneys and ancient monasteries looking straight out of another planet – to Izmir, where we walked beside the coast and touched the Aegean Sea.  Izmir captured my heart and reminded me of California. The weather was warm, the food was delicious, and the views were incredible. Izmir is wine country, and filled with rolling hills, greenery and truly spectacular sunsets. We went to Selcuk, the small town of Sirince (known for its delicious fruit wines), and most incredibly the ancient ruins in Ephesus and Hierapolis. We also soaked in the mud baths of Pammukale and enjoyed the breathtaking views after climbing up the cold cold travertines. It was a challenge, no doubt, but absolutely worth it to feel truly on top of the world.

And finally – Istanbul. Filled with cats and delicious tea and nargile, this city by the water is incredibly beautiful, dotted with mosques especially in the sunset. The city (and country) has amazing mosques filled with intricate detail, and layers upon layers of history – from the Romans to the Greeks to the Ottoman empire. It is truly a magical meeting place where East collides with West. The sunset on the Istanbul skyline is truly incredible, the people are so hospitable and kind, the food and drinks are so tasty.

What an incredible place.

IMG_3784Incredible views of Cappadocia

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IMG_3846Views of Cappadocia from Goreme Open Air Museum

IMG_3918Many lanterns are made out of carving and decoration on gourds in Cappadocia.



IMG_4310You can’t beat the sunsets in Turkey, and this was no exception. Sunset over Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia.

IMG_4240Visiting Selime Monastery near Cappadocia was a surreal experience.  An ancient monastery nestled in such interesting rock formations and mountains. Can’t be beat.

IMG_4074Walking through an ancient city in the Ihlara Valley.

Lots of delicious food and drink in Turkey.  Some of my favorites: mezes (various appetizers), sahlep (a warm, creamy winter drink), moussaka, and of course – lots of Turkish apple tea (çay) and baklava.

IMG_4381Views of the Aegean Sea near Ephesus, Turkey. Simply stunning.

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There are so many cats everywhere around Turkey. Truly adorable and a joy for all cat lovers!

IMG_4585The ancient ruins of Ephesus. Simply amazing.



IMG_4753 1Views of Pammukale, hot springs and cold travertines. An amazing natural formation.

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IMG_4816 1A breathtaking view of the ancient city of Hierapolis – after you climb up high in Pammukale.

The very picturesque small town of Sirince – known for its excellent fruit wines. Blueberry, Blackberry, Strawberry – you name it. Quite refreshing and delicious.

IMG_4854View of city of Selcuk from atop Ayasuluk Castle.

IMG_4867St. John’s Basilica in Selcuk.

IMG_4878Ayasuluk Castle, Selcuk

And of course – the bustling, beautiful city of Istanbul, dotted with its mosques.

IMG_5444The fisherman on Galata bridge, at night.

Happy 2015 everyone!


The open letter from the protestors will always stick with me:

For 108 days, we have continuously been admonished that we should “let the system work,” and wait to see what the results are.

The results are in.

And we still don’t have justice.

This fight for the dignity of our people, for the importance of our lives, for the protection of our children, is one that did not begin Michael’s murder and will not end with this announcement. The ‘system’ you have told us to rely on has kept us on the margins of society. This system has housed us in her worst homes, educated our children in her worst schools, locked up our men at disproportionate rates and shamed our women for receiving the support they need to be our mothers. This system you have admonished us to believe in has consistently, unfailingly, and unabashedly let us down and kicked us out, time and time again.

And this is the heart of the matter – the real truth of what’s happening.

We can talk about the Ferguson decision. There was a lot of injustice in this case; as I understand it, a grand jury should almost always be able to indict in such a case, and the evidence presented certainly meets the probable cause standard. But the prosecutor simply didn’t try, and he may have been biased – I believe – due to his own family background and relationship with the police. We didn’t have an unbiased grand jury hearing here. The fact that we couldn’t even get to a trial where there is clear evidence that Darren Wilson shot a young man — Wilson has admitted to this himself — clearly shows that something was up. Something was wrong.

This case is emblematic of the larger issue of injustice and structural racism in our courts, our deeply flawed justice system which always works for the rich and never for the poor, for the White but never for the Black. We have an issue of racism in the justice system in this country.  This is why the famed Bryan Stevenson supposedly wrote and filed a “Motion to Treat My 14 Year-Old Client As a 75 year Old, White, Privileged Corporate Executive.”  Because our system is not neutral. The law is not neutral and it is not just. The system is actually skewed from beginning to end against Black people and racial minorities, because most of it has been created and perpetuated by White people.

But let us also not forget that this is a matter of structural injustice. Yes, it is about racism and police brutality, the brutal racism that causes a cop to view an unarmed young man as a threat, that makes the police consider a man as an animal who “charged” at him and looked like a “demon.” It’s racism that is making cops view a 6’4″ Black man automatically and inherently as a threat. And then it’s racism built into the very fabric of our laws and court systems that makes him be able to get away with this.

But it’s also about the broader subjugation of African Americans in this country since slavery. It is about the continued legacy of subordination and discrimination and oppression. As the protestors wrote, we are in this position because we have never fully ended the harms of slavery. This ‘system’ is continually making sure that Black people are sent to prison at high numbers, unemployed, in the poorest housing and in the worst schools. Michelle Alexander writes in the New Jim Crow about this legacy and about how the mass incarceration of Black people is just a continuation of the Jim Crow laws, but in another name. And the foundation is racism: which allows the justice system to see Black people and Black men as threats, as dangerous, and as criminals. This is just another system, a system of keeping Black people in the underclass of our society. Ferguson is about Mike Brown, it is about all the people killed unjustly  by police brutality. But it is ultimately (I think, echoing only what the protestors say and not trying to displace their movement!) about structural injustice and racism in our country in every arena that works so hard to subjugate Black people in America, decades after the civil rights movement.

The results are in. And we still don’t have justice.


Hello friends! Yet another (shameless?) plug: I recently organized an Online Symposium for the Harvard Human Rights Journal on access to justice, particularly via customary and informal systems, and we received a range of fascinating submissions from scholars and practitioners around the world. Read more below and check out these illuminating articles:

From the Informal to the Formal: Examining Access to Justice and Customary Justice Mechanisms 

The HHRJ Online Symposium this year centers on issues of access to justice to the poor around the world, with a particular focus on examining the challenges that exist within informal, customary and traditional mechanisms of dispute resolution.

In many countries, the formal state-governed justice system exists alongside various informal methods of justice delivery and dispute resolution, often termed “informal,” “non-state,” “traditional,” or “customary” mechanisms. Due to the barriers faced by litigants attempting to access the formal justice system, many have began to shift a focus to informal methods of dispute resolution in a range of cases – such as family law, land and property disputes, and issues of economic and social rights. There has been an increased emphasis on mediations and on engaging with informal justice mechanisms that already exist at the grassroots level, such as the  shalish in Bangladesh, the bashingantahe in Burundi, or the shura Jirga in Afghanistan. Although informal systems of dispute resolution are often more accessible and familiar to communities, they come with their own challenges and considerations, particularly in relation to gender and human rights norms.

Alongside such concerns, however, there have been innovations and experiments that are promising in their initial stages, improving access to justice in ways that comport with human rights norms, both via formal state-run systems as well as NGO-led and non-state mechanisms.  We have published five pieces by leading scholars, academics and practitioners in this field that build upon this theme and explore in greater depth the complexities inherent in working to promote grassroots access to justice to communities, and especially the added questions raised by customary justice systems:


Last Friday, I organized a symposium at Harvard Law School hosted by the Harvard Law & International Development Society (LIDS) and titled “Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Rebuilding from Emergency to Development,” which brought together practitioners, experts, and academics across the country and world to discuss issues of economic growth and development, and supporting the rule of law in countries arising from conflict.

It was a great success, with lots of insights gained and ideas exchanged.  It was my first real time organizing an event of this scale, and I was so excited to see the vibrant outcomes and exchanges from it!  Especially close to my heart was the second panel, focusing on justice and security reform after conflict. Vivek Maru, of Namati, spoke about their work promoting the use of grassroots community outreach workers (modeled after the “community health worker” model), and how this model of “community paralegals” can be especially effective in supporting ordinary people in accessing justice in fragile countries such as Sierra Leone, post-conflict. In such situations where the justice infrastructure is damaged and often difficult to access by much of the population, supporting justice can be done through the use of paralegals who can help mediate disputes, access information about their legal rights, and address injustices both individual (e.g land rights disputes, family law matters) and collective (mining abuses, collective actions). In the absence of a strong formal justice system in post-conflict countries, the grassroots justice model offers a place to start — and to start with the people rather than at the top-down institutional level.

Here are a few pictures below! Click here for the LIDS website and to access more information on the event, photos, and videos.

IMG_0572Keynote speaker, Dr. Donald Kaberuka – President of the African Development Bank – talks about post-conflict reconstruction and promoting economic growth across Africa.

DSC_0848The first panel focused on building institutions and driving economic growth in countries after conflict. 

DSC_0854The panel included practitioners from across institutions such as The Asia Foundation, USAID, and the World Bank. It was a great look into the tricky challenge of how to rebuild institutions in fragile states.

IMG_0648The second panel focused on developing the rule of law, stability, and security in countries after conflict.