RALPH CHRISTY: I am delighted to introduce this topic and the speaker today, because I think it comes at especially a timely point along the area of development. I think it's the real challenge that we have before us today as we think about global poverty, and in the midst of this poverty, we have so many women entrapped in all kinds of areas of legal and political and cultural traps that impede their contributions to development. I think earlier, I said that this is the moral imperative of development work today, as we look across the globe and find millions of women who are, in a sense, in bondage.
Before coming over here today, I just ran across something that I had read a long time ago. And I would ask each of you to go back and read The Solitude of Self, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who's one of the central architects of the women's suffrage movement. And when I read this piece, it reminded me again about everyone contributing to society, and everyone having an equal part to pursue their own right as an individual, as a citizen, as a mother, as a daughter, as a wife. By any perspectives, we would expect civil rights and individual rights afforded to people.
I am so pleased that Cornell is at the forefront again in addressing these issues by the establishment of the Avon Center here within the law school. And just recently, the executive director was appointed, I think about a year now. And I had the pleasure of meeting her last fall.
And our efforts to reach out across the campus to the vet school, to the law school, to the business school, to art and sciences-- because Cornell is indeed one of those places where you can study anything, any subject, in any college. And to bring some meaning to that, we invited Sara Lulo today to provide us a conversation on her work at the Avon Center on looking at the rule of law, and how it might play in advancing women's rights globally.
So with no further ado, Sara is a graduate of Cornell University. She did her master's degree at NYU. She came back to Cornell to do a law degree. She's practiced law on the international stage. I know she's worked in Kenya. She was in the office in London as one the prominent law firms in London.
And then we were so fortunate to attract her back to our university to have her be the executive director of the Avon Center. With no further ado, it is my real pleasure to introduce you all Sara Lulo. Sara.
SARA LULO: Thank you for the kind introduction, Ralph. And thank you for this invitation to be here and speak to you today on this very important topic. And I also want to thank [? Laura ?] and [? Ginny ?] for their help in facilitating and organizing this event.
And I'm particularly pleased to know that there's a real cross-section represented here in this audience, because-- as we'll discuss a little bit further, and as you probably know intuitively-- the topic of gender-based violence is not a legal one. It really does touch all aspects of our lives. There's not a country, a jurisdiction, or indeed, even a family that's not touched in some way by this issue. And as Ralph said so poignantly, this is truly a moral imperative in all disciplines, not just legal, but in development. And it touches all aspects of our studies as scholars as well.
So as Ralph noted, the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice was established and launched here at Cornell Law School just a year ago. I joined the center in August. And it's a novel initiative in that it is a partnership between the Avon Company and the law school, and the center is made possible, and our work is made possible by a grant from the Avon Company. And our substantive area of focus is in advancing access to justice for women and girls around the world.
And as I'll talk about a little bit further, we work quite in-depth with judges from different countries around the world and the United States, and in particular, in developing countries as well. So this talk really allowed me to focus more formally on the undeniable links, and well-documented links between gender-based violence and development. And for that, I am grateful for the opportunity as well.
So there's much to be said on this topic, but in the interest of time, I'm going to focus on, really, three questions. Number one, I want to talk about what is gender-based violence. When I say what is-- what does that mean? What am I referring to? And here, I'm going to draw from the international human rights legal framework to set the stage for that discussion and highlight some forms of violence that are quite prevalent in the world today.
Second, I'm going to talk about the ties, the linkages between development and gender-based violence. And for those of you working, or hoping to work directly in development, I hope to reinforce or introduce considerations of gender in your own respective development work and programs. And I am sure that this audience has much experience and insights to share with me, and I look forward to your comments and questions afterwards. And I'll also discuss how development challenges translate into barriers to access to justice for women and girls, and some of the work that the Avon Center is doing to address those barriers.
So what do I mean by gender-based violence? Well, gender-based violence is an act or a threat of harm inflicted because of the victim's gender. In other words, the victim is targeted precisely because he or she is a man or a woman, a girl or a boy. And the word "gender" as opposed to "sex" is used on purpose in this regard, because gender refers to social attributes, a social construct, social norms. Gender roles evolve over time and are socially-determined.
Victims of gender-based violence can certainly be men and boys, and in many cases, they are. However, overwhelmingly and disproportionately, women and girls are targeted for violence because of their gender. And this violence is rooted in steeped gender inequality, which we'll look at in more depth. And for this reason, when I'm speaking about gender-based violence today, I'm speaking specifically about violence against women and girls.
The good news is that, in the last 20 years or so, gender-based violence has garnered a lot of increased attention in the international legal arena in particular. The disheartening news is that despite certain advances-- and notable ones-- and increased awareness and scholarship, the situation for countless women around the world has not improved, and indeed, has gotten much worse.
Nearly one out of three women globally has experienced psychological, physical, or sexual violence during their lifetime. One out of three globally. This is not a problem in developing countries. It is a problem in all places.
For the purposes of today's presentation, I will focus on developing countries and some of the barriers, in particular, that we see in developing countries. But again, I stress that this is not a problem that's limited to developing countries. And we also need to look in the United States and in other so-called developed countries as well.
So first, I'd like to talk a little bit about the international human rights framework. As a starting point, all international human rights norms are applicable to women. They are human rights. But there are specific human rights violations that are experienced by women and girls by virtue of their gender. And again, these violations are rooted in inequality and discrimination both in the law and in practice.
The conceptualization of violence against women and girls as a human rights violation specifically is fairly recent. And as you'll see on the screen, there's a definition that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993 in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, otherwise known as DEVA, which states that violence against women is any act that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such actions, or acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.
Also in '93, the UN designated a special rapporteur on violence against women. And that rapporteur is currently Rashida Manjoo, who hails from South Africa. And her role as special rapporteur is to receive and investigate situations of gender-based violence throughout the world through country visits and reports.
Now, the international human rights framework is something that I'd like to discuss, at least in brief, because it's useful not only in that it sets forth relevant definitions for us to point to, but also because it outlines states' obligations. And when we talk about international human rights, we do talk about the states' obligations as duty bearers. The state is the duty bearer.
And in modern international law, indeed, we see a transfer, an emphasis from the rights holder, or the individual, to the state as the duty bearer. That is, the states owe a duty of due diligence to, for example, protect human rights, and to investigate and prosecute such violations. And that's something to keep in mind when we look at human rights frameworks.
So there are a number of international legal instruments that specifically address forms of discrimination faced by women and girls. And I've listed a few here, and I won't propose to discuss them each in detail. But a few salient points for you to keep in mind is that treaties binds states among themselves, but typically, domestic legislation is required in order for individuals to enforce those rights under those treaties.
And treaties typically have dispute resolution mechanisms. For example, a controversy can be submitted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the world court. The International War Crimes Tribunals will point to international human rights treaties to adjudicate certain charges on war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and other war crimes. And nations are also bound by opinions of UN bodies pursuant to certain optional protocols that they sign.
Notably, I want to point out that much of human rights work in the legal arena is done through moral persuasion and political pressure, and it should not be discounted the impact that this activism can play. In the UN and international community, we have diplomatic and economic measures, and certainly, the work of nongovernmental organizations has proven critical and central to advances in this regard.
These are some key international consensus documents and UN Security Council resolutions. I just wanted to note them because you may see them increasingly referenced in popular media, I would hope. The Beijing Conference in '95, as many of you might be familiar with, was really a watershed for international women's rights. It took place in '95, notably, when there are a lot more women comparatively in positions of authority and influence around the world than there had been up until then. And now we are at Beijing plus 15, and it's really a formidable force of getting women leaders together from around the world to create state action plans, and how to address women's rights issues.
Also noted are some UN Security Council resolutions that address specifically the disproportionate impact of war on women. And notice how recent they are. They start in 2000 with Resolution 1325. And in recent months, a new position of a special representative on violence against women during conflict was created to advise the security general of the UN on this issue.
And I do want to spend a minute or two talking about the impact of women in conflict, because this is-- conflict and post-conflict situations are certainly one of the focus in development. And the situation of women in conflict and in post-conflict areas is one that merits particular attention.
Historically, women and girls were considered spoils of war. We've all heard the term "rape and pillage" in school textbooks from when we were young. And what does that mean? And have we ever stopped and considered, what does that mean? Rape and pillage.
It was commonplace, historically, for victors to solidify their conquests by raping the women of a village, city, or community. And yes, it sounds barbaric, but it is not archaic, because it's still happening today. You need only look at the New York Times and other popular media, NGO reports. The information is overwhelming how even today, in many conflicts around the country, this is still happening.
Rape is used as a weapon of war and as a means of committing genocide. The numbers are devastating and do not begin to capture the situation on the ground, but a few examples. In the civil war of Sierra Leone, one in three women were reportedly raped. One in three.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, in its ongoing conflict, it is said it is safer to be a soldier in the battle carrying arms than to be a woman at home. Because a woman risks, just being at home, being raped, sexually assaulted.
In fact, in a conference that the Avon Global Center had last month in Washington, DC that focused on violence against women during conflict and in post-conflict areas, there was a gentleman with the Panzi Hospital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was the founder. His name is Dr. Denis Mukwege.
And he was describing the women that he treats in the Congo. And beyond the numbers-- which in and of themselves are staggering-- he was talking about the types of injuries they would suffer. And young girls, ages 8, 13, young women, a little bit older, had been raped to such a degree that a common ailment that he was treating was something called fistula.
And if you're not familiar with fistula, it's when the organs have been so badly damaged through perforation, through another person, or with another object, a broom handle, a stick, a knife, sometimes shot with a gun, that the body cannot hold its fluids. So these women and these young girls cannot hold their fluids.
And beyond the physical and psychological trauma that they experience, they are shunned by their communities. They can't work. And because their situation is so uncomfortable and creates such physical complications for those taking care of them, they are often shunned and put into a different part of their community, in a separate hut. So young girls at age 13 are left to live by themselves in huts and care for themselves in this state. And I mentioned that as one just egregious example of what's happening right now.
And let's not think this issue of rape during conflict is limited to a specific geography or continent. In the 1990s, in Europe, in the former Yugoslavia, rape was systematically and well documented as a form of ethnic cleansing or genocide. And many of these cases and charges are being heard and have been heard in the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, which has put forth some groundbreaking decisions in terms of acknowledging, and recognizing, and giving a voice to some of these atrocities that happen during wartime specifically to women and girls.
And it's relevant to show that there's a new face of war. Wars today, conflicts today are increasingly internal in nature. In other words, they're not international. There's higher civilian involvement as both combatants and casualties. And they're often sparked by, or resulting in ethnic, racial, and tribal divisions.
And a critical concern that I think is also worth mentioning is the security of women and children who are displaced by conflict. There's a high incidence of rape and sexual assault in refugee camps. Indeed, as a side note, in times of any crisis, whether it is conflict or a natural disaster, as we've seen recently in Haiti, women are at a higher risk for sexual assault and other forms of abuse because security is so low. So I mentioned that, as a security issue, that is something to be borne in mind on all situations of crises, and not just in refugee camps with lack of security.
There's also abuse by peacekeepers. There's increasing attention-- still comparatively little attention, but there's increasing attention on thousands of peacekeeping babies that are often shunned and neglected by those who give birth to them and by the communities.
So this culture of violence, intolerance, and even expectation that assault on women is an inevitable byproduct of war, is exacerbated and facilitated by ingrained discrimination and weak rule of law. And by weak rule of law, I mean little or no access, in this case, to a functioning justice system. And notably, all of these atrocities during conflict leave a legacy of violence long after the peace treaties are signed.
So looking at some of the other forms of violence against women. I will note just a few of them, discuss a few of them in a little bit greater detail. Underpinning all of these-- and I have a long list here, and the list could go on-- is the notion of women as chattel or property.
And the reality that women, on a whole, have a lower socioeconomic status, lower earning power around the globe. And that there's a premium placed on a woman's sexuality, and her sexual chastity. And we can see that played out in many ways.
And when we're talking about gender-based violence, it is not just about sexual assault. It often takes the form of sexual assault, but gender-based violence does not equal rape. There are many forms of violence.
And here we have some of them. Femicide, an increasing number of murders of women. Domestic and intimate partner violence, which is one of the most common forms. Early or forced marriage, child brides.
In conflict, you often see bush brides, where a young girl is given to a military commander to be his sex slave, to clean, to cook for the troops. So that's certainly one form of violence. Harmful traditional practices. Female genital mutilation and cutting. Sexual violence and rape.
Politically-motivated rape. In Zimbabwe, in elections recently, there were reports of mass election-related rape that was intended to intimidate and influence the outcome. There's also mass rape reported in the outbreak of violence following the Kenya elections.
In this past January, interestingly, an Iraqi woman confessed to organizing-- an Iraqi woman organized the rapes of more than 80 women so that their shame would make them susceptible to the recruitment as suicide bombers by al-Qaeda. And 28 of these women were said to have carried out suicide attacks. So politically-motivated rapes organized by both men and women should be noted.
Trafficking in women and girls. This is nothing short of modern-day slavery. And we see it in Eastern Europe, in the US, Latin America, Asia, Africa everywhere around the world.
I was on a recent trip to Cambodia in connection with a clinical project that I'll discuss a little bit later related to acid attacks, and I had the opportunity to visit a home that was sponsored by the Somaly Mam Foundation. And it's a shelter for rescued victims of trafficking. And I met one 15-year-old girl there who had been kept in a cage for two years and repeatedly raped.
Another young woman who was 19 was sold by her family at age eight. And in the subsequent year, she was sold to three different brothels. And she tried to escape those brothels, and her punishment for trying to escape-- and I won't apologize for repeating what the facts were-- she was crucified, and she was dunked upside-down in a vat of urine with leeches in it. And this is a girl of eight or nine years old. So sexual trafficking is something that, thankfully, is receiving a lot more attention, but it is something that the gravity is almost unimaginable, what these young girls are experiencing.
Acid attacks is something that does not receive quite as much attention. It is most prevalent in Southeast Asia. And as I mentioned before, the center's doing a project relating to this. We're doing a comparative analysis of the legal frameworks in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia that impact and give access to justice for survivors of these types of attacks.
And what the attacks entail is acid is thrown on a victim as a means of punishment for, usually, bucking or trying to buck some gender norm. So you see it typically for refusals of sexual advances, a refusal of marriage proposal. And if you look at what the underlying reason is, and in speaking to people, it's steeped in gender norms that perceive women as, their only value is their beauty. And that their only goal or purpose is to get married.
And so if you throw acid, the thought is-- and you destroy that woman's beauty-- and the acid attacks are almost always centered on the face to do just this-- you will destroy her chances of getting married. And therefore, her family is left with this burden, and she's further shunned. And she can't work, because no one wants to look at her. And what the acid does is it literally eats away the skin, and it sometimes eats away at the bone, and sometimes causes death, often. Some women are forced to drink the acid.
And what's also alarming is that there's not a lot of knowledge or widespread knowledge on how to treat these injuries. So you see people putting blankets on them, or putting oil instead of washing it. So again, looking at how different sectors need to work together-- and we'll get to that a little bit later-- is, it's not just a legal issue, but it's also looking at public health, and public information and education on how to treat these victims when they come into a hospital, or they're just on the street.
And I thought it was quite revealing to hear a story relayed by an advocate of acid attack survivors yesterday, in fact, at the law school, who was talking about one victim had her-- her clothes were burned. And the people were so concerned about her being naked, and her chastity, and people didn't want to see a woman naked on the street, that they covered her with blankets rather than actually treating her injuries. And you also see reports in Afghanistan of young girls, schoolgirls walking to school and having acid thrown in their faces to deter women and girls from seeking an education.
So in effect, what you have worldwide is a lifecycle of women experiencing violence at every stage in their life. We have half the world's population living in a situation where, at each stage in her life, she is at an increased risk of abhorrent crimes and violence no matter where she lives.
Some social determinants of violence, or individual risk factors, are educational levels, age at marriage, low socioeconomic status. There are cultural and religious factors that go to establishing and reinforcing gender norms. Societal attitudes that are related. Legal protection and enforcement, not just on the books, but in fact being enforced.
And the experience of violence in the home. If you are brought up in a situation and all you see is violence around you, one's own tolerance or one's own thought that that is an acceptable norm, both as a male or a female, one tends to think that that is somehow more acceptable.
So ties between development and gender-based violence. Development challenges are often linked with a weak rule of law, which translates into barriers to accessing justice.
So what do I mean by weak rule of law? I referenced this earlier. And what I mean is that a system is dysfunctional. I'm not saying that its legal system is perfect. I don't think there is such thing.
But what we have when there's weak rule of law is a disregard for the laws that are on the books, ineffective or discriminatory laws, or structural institutional limitations and inadequacies to give the laws on the books effect. And at one extreme, you have the conflict situation, which can entail havoc and general lack of security. And in those situations, women's rights are often not a priority. And in post-conflict-- but not limited to post-conflict-- there are certain capacity and resource hurdles.
So a key factor in looking at rule of law is the institutional capacity of the courts and police officers, as well as the judges, the prosecutors, and the officers of the court who comprise that system. So some questions or some relevant factors, for example, are, do police have the resources to investigate the crimes? In Cambodia and other countries, a significant barrier to access for victims is the need to pay transportation costs for the police officer. Because if the victim doesn't pay the transportation costs, the police officer doesn't have a way to go investigate the crime.
Do judges have resources necessary to efficiently adjudicate and dispose of the cases on the docket? Oftentimes, the answer is no. Are court officers impartial and generally qualified to carry out their respective responsibilities?
Another important element in considering the rule of law is what the popular perception and confidence in the court and justice system is. Do citizens have confidence that they will be treated fairly if they report a crime to a police officer, and/or pursue a court case in court? Or is the investigation and/or prosecution contingent upon an understood price, or a bribe?
There's a recent Amnesty International report on the hurdles that women in Uganda face. And I thought the title was quite telling. And it's called, "I Cannot Afford Justice." And when you have a victim of a crime who says, I cannot afford justice, what price do we put on justice as an international community? At what price is justice, for any of us?
At bottom, in an environment marked by weak rule of law, citizens do not have effective legal recourse. And unfortunately, those who are most disadvantaged in terms of the development scale also face the steepest barriers in accessing this justice.
There are certainly close links to poverty and economic downturns. A 2009 Social Watch report from Benin found that, as a result of the financial crisis, forced marriages have gone up, because families need a way to make more money, so they'll sell their girls in order to cope with the economic crisis. In the US, a recent survey found that 75% of the domestic violence shelters that were surveyed reported an increase in people trying to seek help, and women seeking help at those shelters since September of 2008, which coincides with the US economic downturn.
So what, also, are the economic costs of gender-based violence? If what the cost is is what governments and leaders want to respond to, well, let's look at the costs of gender-based violence. Government costs include costs of health care, domestic violence shelters, and other services in response to gender-based violence. And that's in addition to any sort of prevention programs that there might be in place.
For example, in 1993, the Colombian government spent over $73 and 1/2 million on services relating to intimate partner violence. $73 and 1/2 million in Colombia.
There's also a certain cost to businesses and industries. As a result of violence in the home, or violence targeted against women, whether it is intimate partner violence or a sexual assault outside of the home, there's missed work and productivity in the workplace.
And certain health care problems that result also causing people to miss work. In the UK, it is estimated that domestic violence costs the state around 3.1 billion British pounds. And employers, it costs employers around 1.3 billion pounds. So if policymakers need to look at what's profitable or effective, there are some numbers that certainly can be factored in in development work and policy-making.
So there are certain development initiatives, and the Millennium Development Goals. And I would argue-- and as do many others-- that these goals provide a wonderful opportunity, and an important opportunity, for increased attention to women-specific needs and circumstances. Because if those circumstances aren't taken into account, the development goals aren't going to reach what they're trying to achieve. Because the violence against women and girls not only arises from the conditions that these goals are trying to address, but it also hinders their achievement.
And so in the interest of time-- I know I can't go into all of these in great detail, but for example, here are the Millennium Development Goals. And each of these has an opportunity to address violence against women, and also needs to take into consideration a gender component.
For example, in the first goal, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. There are at least two studies in India that indicate that intimate partner violence has a strong association with poor nutritional status of women and their children. And violence also impacts the stability of the family, resulting in lost work, which in turn impacts food security at the family level.
If you look at the second goal, achieving universal access to justice. Well, education relates to earning power. It's widely documented that, in addition to threats and security concerns, one of the reasons that women can't leave abusive home situations is that there's a lack of an alternative source of income. So education and earning power is important in this regard, and it's also important in terms of increasing the knowledge on the individual level of rights, and the evolution of social norms and gender equality.
So to consider in development programs as well is the safety issues for girls seeking education. I noted the reports of acid-throwing in Afghanistan against schoolgirls who are trying to seek education. Just three days ago, the Associated Press reported, and I quote, "more than 80 schoolgirls have fallen ill in three cases of mass sickness over the past week. 80 schoolgirls over the past week in northern Afghanistan, raising fears that militants who oppose education for girls are using poison to scare them away from school." This was three days ago in the Associated Press.
In South Africa, there's a telling statistic that 38% of all rape victims identified a teacher or principal as the rapist. So when we're talking about education as a development goal, we can't just talk about education in a vacuum. We have to talk about education as a secure place for learning, in particular, taking into account certain security risks that exist for segments of the population. And in particular, in this case, women and girls.
So barriers to access to justice. I referred to the economic barrier of not being able to pay for certain types of justice when the victim is required to pay for certain prosecutions or investigations. And this is not always even the case. Corruption. In the case of corruption, it is often just the only way of expediting a case.
There's also corrupt officials at every level, and in every government. But it is certainly a significant barrier to access to justice, and rule of law systems where the structure and the institutions are comparatively weaker.
I should also note that economic needs, and the lack of affordable health care, makes women in some countries-- and this is something that we saw in Cambodia through our interviews-- makes women in some countries more apt to accept an out-of-court settlement, a financial settlement, instead of pursuing a criminal conviction. And what they'll do is, the families-- because this is often considered a family topic-- the family of the perpetrator will offer some small, modest payment to the victim. And often, because the victim has no other recourse for income, will accept that rather than go through the court system.
So we have, also, dysfunctional courts. The lack of implementation of existing laws. The lack of appropriate procedures that are in the criminal code or justice system.
For example, some women victims of violence may be required to testify in public rather than be given the opportunity to do so in private. Some countries don't have laws preventing inquiry into past sexual history. They don't have protections for child witnesses in courts.
There's also a lack of knowledge of existing laws that are there to protect women and girls. And it may or may not surprise you to know that some judges are unaware of, or ignore applicable law. And some judges who might otherwise issue favorable decisions do not have access to their own case law or persuasive authority in other countries that might help them adjudicate in terms of looking at human rights obligations and other factors when their own jurisdiction doesn't have a law on point.
And lastly, in that term, is the attitudes of actors within the judicial system themselves. For example, there was a judge in an India case that a colleague of mine was speaking to the victim in that case. She was an acid attack victim.
And the judge told her, when she was on the witness stand, cover your face. I can't look at you. Quite revealing in terms of the judge's own human prejudices, or unwillingness to look beyond what was right in front of him to see the actual victim.
In another acid attack case in India, the judge said, this is a lover's quarrel. If she had accepted the marriage proposal, then this wouldn't have happened. The attack wouldn't have happened. These are the judge's words. So the effect of these barriers to accessing justice, in many cases, is that the victim herself is re-victimized through the justice system when she's interacting with police officers, or judges in the courtroom, or the prosecutors themselves.
Also notable is the long delays in many justice systems. And there's the adage of justice delayed is justice denied. And some victims just simply don't see it worth their while of trying to go through this very difficult system to try to get this questionable judgment at the end.
And what this all amounts to is, really, a culture of impunity. The failure to implement and enforce laws sends a message, and does nothing less than send a message, that society condones the use of violence. And if perpetrators of abuse know that laws won't be enforced against them, then they'll continue to commit these abuses.
And so we have a continued deterioration of women's safety and security, health, and socioeconomic standing, a continued deterioration of global human rights, and certainly, a hindrance to development. When you have half of the world's population not able to contribute to development in a meaningful way and marginalized in development schemes, and their own issues, their critical issues not really considered in the programs, then it's hard to see how development goals are really going to achieve what they're really trying to address.
So looking on the positive, and I know we're short on time. Strengthening the rule of law and access to justice. And that's really the work of where the Avon Global Center is really focusing our attention.
And we work really closely with judges in different jurisdictions around the world. One of the things we do is we're providing access to legal resources online. As I mentioned, one of the barriers to justice is that, sometimes, judges don't have access to case law. It's something that, in the United States, as lawyers, we take for granted because we've got these fabulous databases, and our laws, and our case law, our jurisprudence is very well-documented and digested. And there's a lot of free resources as well, not just fee-based databases.
That's not the case in many countries, especially those that have undergone conflict. In certain situations, their records, A, were not kept, or B, were destroyed in a conflict. In other cases, there's just not a history or legacy of digesting. And so you have judges who not only don't have access to their own case law, which hinders the development of jurisprudence within a country, but they also are finding it difficult to look outside to other jurisdictions to inform their own decisions as well, and also, international human rights.
So what the center is doing is putting together a database of case law. We've currently covered 40 countries, and we're adding to it on a weekly basis, that judges can access and anyone can access free. And the cases are vetted for relevance. They all deal with gender-based violence, and women's rights, and access to justice.
Another area of focus for us is legal research assistance. In the United States, a lot of judges-- there's a well-established clerkship program, both at the state and federal level, where recent graduates-- or people, even, practicing attorneys-- go and clerk for judges, and provide research assistance to them, sometimes help drafting and opinions. That's not typically the case in many countries, particularly developing countries.
So one of the functions that the center, the Avon Global Center is doing, is providing some legal research assistance to judges. Currently, we've had about 15 judges from India, Ghana, and other countries come to us saying, can you provide a memo on the sexual harassment laws of India, for example. We just had a request from Ghana asking, can you provide me some analysis of divorce proceedings under Sharia law? And we are able to, thankfully, have wonderful assistance from students who also gain wonderful educational and drafting experience, and together with teams of students, can provide that sort of legal research assistance to judges around the world.
We also have a judicial sympo-- we are also involved with judicial symposia. As I mentioned, we just had a conference last month focused on gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict. That was attended by about 200 people, 30 of whom were jurists, judges from around the world, including five Supreme Court justices from different countries and nine judges from international war crimes tribunals. Also, we had some of the leading scholars, prosecutors in the arena. So we're trying to bring people together, not only to share experiences and support one another, but also make connections and learn best practices from one another.
Clinical projects is another key area for the center. I mentioned the acid attack, the acid violence comparative study. We're also doing a study of the experience of women survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence who become criminal defendants here in New York state, and what their experience is, and to what extent their history of violence at home has factored into their sentencing, if at all.
Importantly, we're also involved with legal reform initiatives. In Cambodia, for example, we met with the drafting task force that is working to draft legislation that is meant to specifically penalize perpetrators of acid attack and regulate the distribution and sale of acid in Cambodia. So we're providing some assistance on that, and some consultation. We're also working with policymakers in India and Bangladesh on similar issues.
And lastly, we are trying to establish ourselves as a portal of information, a resource for stakeholders, whether prosecutors, judges, students, scholars, to really come to the center and look to the center for information, to make connections with one another, and to share experiences. And I'm happy to say, and humbled to say that I think, in, really, less than a year, we've really come a long way in establishing that.
But unfortunately, the problem is of such magnitude, and the issues that we're confronting are such enormous that we hope to just make a small-- if we can make a small contribution, a meaningful one, that would be tremendous, because this really is, again, as Ralph so poignantly put it, a moral imperative for all of us. And it's certainly something that takes all of us from all sectors to look at, study, and take on the difficult questions that are really systematic and deeply ingrained in all of our societies.
Lastly, I've put on here our website, and our telephone number and email address. I welcome you to contact us. We develop projects in partnership, not just with judges, but with local NGOs and others that are interested in these topics.
And you also are very welcome to register with the center so that you can receive a newsletter and updates, and certainly take advantage of our legal resources. They're there for you, and for all of us. So with that, I thank you for your attention and your time today.
RALPH CHRISTY: We are about out of time, but it is tradition that we have a few questions. And so I realize that maybe some students may have to run to a class. You may excuse yourself now. For those of you who want to stay on for a few minutes and have a conversation with Sara, who among you are first? Yes.
AUDIENCE: I have a couple of questions, so I'll start. All right. What country has the greatest incidence of violence against women? Do you know what that is?
SARA LULO: I don't know what the-- I mean, because the measures are so different as well. I can point you to many resources, but I don't think there's-- the measure different things, and they take different types of violence into account. So there are certain ones that are particularly egregious, and it depends on if you're looking at percentage, or based on their population.
AUDIENCE: I was just wondering, because you had mentioned that there's-- and I forgot her name in South Africa, who takes in complaints. And I didn't know if there was a certain-- if she sees a lot more from different regions of the world.
SARA LULO: I think those with the weakest rule of law. I think there's a definite connection there. The weaker the rule of law, probably, the worse the incidence of domestic violence. Or not domestic violence. Violence in general.
But so much of it, it's really important to understand that the vast majority is not reported. So you have to rely on reports. The special rapporteur on violence against women is Rashida Manjoo, who herself hails from South Africa, which has an enormous challenge with gender-based violence in many respects.
And the Congo is one that is certainly isolated as one of the most severe crisis areas, in terms of mass rape and general denigration of women. And those are just two examples. If you look at Afghanistan, Pakistan, huge, enormous hurdles.
But you also have to look within the United States. We have an incredible challenge ahead of us too. I don't know what the statistics are, but I think there's some-- for women, I think there is some number for women in prison. I think it was 7 out of 10 reported that they had experienced some violence during their life. And I would suspect that that is not too far off from a greater popula-- probably a little bit higher, but not too far off.
AUDIENCE: And the other thing, if you just have a minute, could you expand upon the moral persuasion and political coercion, and how effective that is?
SARA LULO: Sure. And what you're talking about is in terms of international human rights. When I was saying that, one way that international human rights can be effective is, in economic and diplomatic circles, moral persuasion.
For example, with the special rapporteur on violence against women, and other international legal instruments and vehicles, a lot of it is naming and shaming. Really putting your finger on it, pointing, saying, putting political pressure that can sometimes, but not always, translate into economic pressure. And that has varying degrees of success. But it definitely does factor in, and has had some good results. I wish I had some clear results to specify for you off-hand.
RALPH CHRISTY: I see at least two questions. I see the lady right here on the end, and then Professor Nelson.
AUDIENCE: This is-- I don't know my answer [INAUDIBLE]. But how do you go about addressing issues in countries where religion is so closely tied to everyday life, like having a national religion and that dictates how people act towards-- even if the religion doesn't-- like in Pakistan, or honor killings.
SARA LULO: Right. Well, I'm not an Islamic scholar, but I do know from some Islamic scholars that have shared with me that what we're seeing in countries where there's this extreme disdain for women, in certain Islamic states, is really not true to the Quran, or the true teachings of Islam. And that, I do believe in, and support.
I think one of the greatest tools that can be had is education. And I think it's no coincidence that some of these acid attacks that we're seeing against schoolgirls are in areas where the religion is used as a vehicle to say, women aren't supposed to be educated. Because through education, women become greater advocates of their own rights. They have greater earning power. And I think education is one of the key ways of unraveling some of that exploitation of religion for repression.
RALPH CHRISTY: Final question [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: I was wondering If you could comment on the gender-based attitudes towards this hugely important set of issues that, as you point out, are critical for the moment. Do women activists see it as women's territory, and do they welcome that or not? And do men--
SARA LULO: I'm so glad you've brought this up. Thank you. I was remiss in not mentioning the importance of engaging men in this international momentum of bringing more attention and more action on this.
I think the activism that we've seen to date has been largely led by women and women's groups. Women's caucuses that have informed certain international, legal documents as well. But I think the engagement of men is something that's becoming even more popular and increasingly important, in my view. I think we need to do this together. This is a human rights issue. It's not a women's issue.
RALPH CHRISTY: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking Sara Lulo.
SARA LULO: Thank you.
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Sara Lulo, executive director of the AVON Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, has helped develop rule of law initiatives focused on gender-based violence, including judicial symposia and advocate training programs in Kenya and Liberia, as well as a public outreach and education campaign in Liberia, sponsored by Lawyers Without Borders.
Lulo shares her experiences in these efforts and how rule of law initiatives can help empower women in developing countries.