The present study highlights the critical role legal empowerment strategies can play in changing and challenging oppressive gender relations that are justified under the name of culture. By showcasing an impressive range of legal empowerment approaches in diverse geographical and cultural settings, the study indicates the value of empowering women, through efforts aimed at legal education, legal training, and the provision of legal services and the creation of a space for women to question and negotiate discriminatory ‘cultural’ norms.
Discrimination against women is often justified in the name of culture. For 27 years, I have lent my voice to campaigns by women’s rights advocates, lawyers and other activists to end the unequal legal position of women and girls and to ban corporal punishments such as stoning, flogging or cutting off hands. I have learnt from my work that to implement women’s rights on the ground we need to frame women’s demands in a language that is culturally appropriate and culturally persuasive.
The initiatives presented in the study indicate that legal empowerment strategies can slowly pay long term dividends, by allowing women to claim power from those who rule in their name, rather than leaving reforms to the whims of the state and community decision-makers, whose interests often lie in the preservation of the status quo. The key message of the study is that by empowering women to claim their rights, women are better equipped to bring about change in their communities. I am confident that when such projects are pursued in conjunction with legal and institutional reforms, we will finally make progress in making women’s rights a lived reality.