MANILA, Philippines – Access to justice is a woman and girl’s right as indeed it is everybody’s right. Yet women and girls are particularly vulnerable and have been affected disproportionately as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted all aspects of life in the Philippines, including legal proceedings.
This has meant that proper access to justice has become even more strained particularly for women and children-in-conflict-with-the-law (CICL). Due to the constraints on the movement of people during the pandemic, the hearing of the cases involving the CICLs detained have been conducted exclusively online.
“I feel sad sometimes because I miss my family very much,” said Gina*, 17, who's at a detention facility as her case is processed by the court.
“It’s also been a struggle for me to participate in my hearing. I had to do it through a cell phone. I couldn't hear the judge very well,” Gina said.
Gina is only one of many. Children-in-conflict-with-the-law have struggled to access justice. “We have been using a cell phone for more than a year said Maria Taping, a social worker at the Second Chance Center detention facility.
To support the facility, GOJUST, a programme funded by the European Union, provided three laptops for children-in-conflict-with-the-law to attend court hearings through videoconferencing. “Being able to actually see the judge and the attorney has been a great improvement. The cell phone screen is really small and vertical,” Gina said.
“The laptops will also be used for a skills training programme on literacy, and computer training, among others,” said social worker Tapia. Recognizing this skills training is all the more important considering the need to empower women and girls. This Month, March 2022, International Women’s Month, highlights the contributions of women and girls and works to meet the gap that persists in gender equality including in accessing justice.
Amid the uncertainty of the pandemic, GOJUST has supported the roll-out of videoconferencing hearings during the Covid pandemic, providing 70 laptops to the courts to facilitate hearings, and 30 tablets to the Bureau of Corrections to enable hearings, support eDalaw and parole hearings.
*Name changed to protect privacy
With a total grant of EUR19 million (Php 1.1 billion ) over a period of four years, the EU’s GOJUST Programme: 1) supports the Philippine Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, to improve access to justice for all Filipinos and thus, contribute to inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development; 2) aims at strengthening the Commission on Human Rights to exert its constitutional mandate of civil and political rights protection and enhance human rights promotion in the Philippines consistent with the United Nations’ Paris principles.
GOJUST is implemented through technical assistance by the British Council and logistical and grant management support from the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) as well as the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).