The 2nd Memorial Lecture

Every year, since its inception, the Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation invites an person to deliver a lecture on the subject of women's and human rights. Hon. Ms. Justice Silvia Cartwright, Judge of the New Zealand High Court , delivered the Second Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture.

I begin with the proposition that as human rights issues have real application and relevance for every citizen, they are the responsibility of Parliament and of the domestic courts and authorities. The affirmation and implementation of human rights' principles form the foundation of a just society. Such issues cannot be dismissed as of concern only to the international community and as such, of academic interest only; they are vital to the peace and prosperity of every society. It has become increasingly apparent that the human rights' issues which affect women in particular, play a critical part in the quest to achieve a just and fair society. Women's place in every community is vital to the well-being of that society; without their work, both in the formal sector and in the family, most communities would not survive. It is now well recognized that enhancing women's status and enforcing their rights on an equal basis with men will do much to achieve the objectives of Equality, Development and Peace adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995.

In 1993 the World Conference on Human Rights concluded that:
"The human rights of women and of the girl-child are an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. The full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex are priority objectives of the international community?. The world conference on human rights urges governments, institutions, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations to intensify their efforts for the protection and promotion of human rights of women and the girl-child ." During the World Conference on Human Rights two significant issues were stressed: first, the universality of human rights, described as "the common language of all humanity" and secondly the importance of including and emphasizing the particular nature of women's human rights.

Successive United Nations conferences and regional meetings have concluded that issues critical to the future well-being of the world's people, such as resource development coupled with protection of the environment, the pursuit of peace and the improvement of such basic human rights as health and education are all heavily dependent on an improvement in the status of women. And this improvement is needed urgently in all nations, not only in the developing nations and those nations which are torn by years of war and civil disruption. It is now well known that although most nations promise equality of opportunity for women, few come close to delivering it. That failure has a huge impact on the ability of half the world's population to contribute fully to the economic, social, cultural, civil and political spheres of the community's activities. In all nations women earn less from paid employment than men; they have less likelihood of inheriting land and other assets than their brothers; they are more likely to be physically assaulted by members of their own families; they are less likely to serve in governments in senior positions and they are likely to be the sole bread winner for something approaching one third of the world's families. And now they are being infected with the HIV/AIDS virus at a faster rate than men simply because they lack the information with which to protect themselves, or the right or ability to refuse intimate relationships whether with their own husbands or with the rapist.

Women who remain disproportionately represented amongst the world's poorest endure greater health problems than men. Lacking the same access to financial resources and education they also have less ability to participate fully in community and political life. Reform of the law can address some of these inequalities. But even more important is the need to reform attitudes, traditions and beliefs which most nations have developed into an ethic which, upon examination, nonetheless has no ethical basis. These barriers to attainment of equality apply as much in a small but comparatively wealthy country like New Zealand as they do in the great nation of India with its enormously diverse population.

Judges and the courts also have an important role to play in the protection of women's rights. Few women however, would think first of the courts as a means of changing the structural factors which are the real barriers to achieving equality with men. In fact, it is in the making policy, or in the work of government agencies such as the Police that women's human rights will be implemented or frustrated. The courts therefore have a responsibility to respond appropriately to issues which will have an impact on women and to be informed about measures which will assist them in this task.