Philippines: Complementary approaches are essential in providing legal aid and promoting access to justice for women

The ICJ, together with the Ateneo de Naga Law School and Ateneo de Manila School of Law Legal Services Center, hosted a Seminar on Women’s Access to Justice and the Role of Legal Aid Providers on 25 and 26 February 2023 in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu, Philippines.

Associate Dean of Ateneo de Naga Law School, Vergeenee Marree Abrenica – Orillosa, who presented the closing remarks, explained that “macro-level” or policy approaches, such as the Bangkok General Guidance for Judges on Applying a Gender Perspective in South and Southeast Asia in conjunction with a bottom-up “micro” approach that considers the diverse backgrounds of individuals seeking legal aid, are essential in promoting women’s access to justice.

At the seminar, participants emphasized the importance of providing all genders equal human rights protection and access to remedies through formal and informal justice institutions that comply with international human rights standards.

Legal frameworks at the international and domestic levels guarantee women’s rights and access to justice on a macro-level – targeted at States and formal justice institutions. One important set of standards is contained in the Bangkok General Guidance, which the ICJ considers should be formally adopted by various judiciaries across Asia and the Pacific.

The Guidance urges judges to ensure unhindered access to justice for women by being guided by the principle of equality and non-discrimination, and by identifying, addressing and eliminating gender discriminatory practices. It also seeks to alert actors from all justice systems, formal and informal, and at all levels to the fact that harmful gender stereotypes and gender biases promote inequality and perpetuate discrimination, thereby undermining access to justice for all.

When guided by international human rights law, informal justice mechanisms play a positive role in dispute resolution. These mechanisms allow everyone, particularly women, and those belonging to marginalized and disadvantaged groups, to enjoy full and equal access to effective remedies that might otherwise be out of reach. This is the realm in which many legal aid providers operate, making it essential that they, too, apply a gender-sensitive lens in their practice.

Laws may be in place, but people’s realities are different. Legal aid providers bridge the access to justice gap for women and girls who are unable to seek remedies through formal justice institutions. Continuous training empowers providers to further promote women’s rights and contribute to creating a more just and equitable society.


Caleen Chanyungco Obias, National Legal Consultant for the Philippines, International Commission of Jurists, e :

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