Chief Justice calls for gender skills in justice dispensation

By Christopher Bendana

Justice Katureebe tells judicial officers that women are more vulnerable and find it difficult to access justice.

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KAMPALA - The Chief Justice of Uganda Bart Katureeba has called for the use of the Gender Bench Book (GBB) in courts.

It is a set of guidelines designed to help judicial officers in dispensing justice that is gender-sensitive.

Katureeba was opening the Validation Workshop of the Gender Bench Book at Protea Hotel in Kampala at the end of last week.

A statement from UN Women-Kampala says the system outlines local and international-based practices on enhancing gender responsiveness of the judicial system by improving access to justice for women. It further aims to ensure that judicial procedures, systems and decisions in Uganda are increasingly gender-sensitive.

The Chief Justice told judicial officers including judges and magistrates attending the validation that women are more vulnerable and find it difficult to access justice.

“But even amidst the various gender considerations, it is without doubt that women are more vulnerable and often find it more difficult than man to access justice,” he said.

“This has been attributed to discriminatory laws, norms and practices within the various societies in which we live, coupled with lack of awareness on the part of the various actors within the justice sector, the women themselves and the general public.”

He said the GBB was one of the key strategies indentified to solve the gender capacity gap under the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) work plan for 2011-2016.

The GBB was intended to provide judicial officers with progressive, readily available, factual and practical information geared towards solving gender-based legal issues with a gender-balanced approach.

Hodan Addou, the UN Women-Uganda country representative, said GBB, the first of its kind in Africa, would help in handling cases affecting women.

She listed land grabbing, denial of land ownership rights, domestic violence, and denial of custody rights over their children, lack of child support from their partners and harmful practices as forced widow inheritance and FGM as cases where the issue of gender had to be understood well by the judicial officer.

On his part Justice Katureeba cited an example where his close relative who had fought back her violent husband was castigated by her family for not being a woman in the early 1960s.

Addou said there was a need to have more women in the judicial sector and also have reforms that target women.

“In order for women’s access to justice to be effective, urgent steps must be taken to repeal discriminatory laws, promote greater participation of women in the justice sector and introduce innovative institutional reforms that are responsive to women’s specific needs,” she said.

Justice David Batema, the lead consultant in the authoring of the GBB, said the book handles substantive civil matters though it also picked criminal aspects such as adultery, incest and divorce among others.

He explained how the constitution has limited some powers of some people but they are not aware.

“The GBB is a tool for legal interpretation of the constitution.”