Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Customary Justice and Gender

I spent the afternoon at a conference on ‘Customary Justice and Legal Pluralism in War-Torn Societies’ that was co-sponsored by George Washington University, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the World Bank. The conference is designed to focus on how customary justice systems are important components to rethinking what the Rule of Law means in post-conflict societies. The participants were drawn from the worlds of anthropology, international development, civil society in post-conflict countries – and a few lawyers.
I moderated a session on Northern Uganda. Although the session was not explicitly dedicated to gender, one of the dominant themes of the 4 presenters centered on women’s rights to land. Much of the litigation over land involves women, who are widows, internally displaced persons, or nonmarital women. We heard from the founder of LEMU, the Land and Equity Movement in Uganda, about how to protect women’s rights to land, given the existence of both customary law and “state” laws. The presenters emphasized the tensions between the different legal systems in Uganda, but noted that customary law was not necessarily hostile to women’s land ownership rights. Indeed, they recommended writing down customary law (to the fullest extent feasible) in order to help safeguard rights when there is litigation that must apply customary law.

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