This volume of Progress of the World's Women starts with a paradox: the past century has seen a transformation in women's legal rights, with countries in every region expanding the scope of women's legal entitlements. Nevertheless for most of the world's women, the laws that exist on paper do not translate to equality and justice. Pervasive discrimination against women creates major hurdles to achieving rights and hinders progress on all of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) -- the benchmarks that the international community has set to eradicate extreme poverty -- from improving maternal health, to achieving universal education and halting the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Progress of the World's Women shows that well-functioning legal and justice systems can be a vital mechanism for women to achieve their rights. They can shape society by providing accountability, by stopping the abuse of power and by creating new norms. The courts have been a critical site of accountability for individual women to claim rights and to set legal precedents that have benefitted millions of others.
This report highlights the ways in which governments and civil society are working together to reform laws and create new models for justice service delivery that meet women's needs. It demonstrates how they have risen to the challenge of ensuring that women can access justice in the most challenging of situations, including in the context of legal pluralism and during and after conflict.