By Fauzia Erfan Ahmed, SAI Research Affiliate, Jyotsana Parajuli, and Anna-Lucia Feldman
Although feminist endeavors have succeeded in legal reforms that criminalize gender-based violence in India and Bangladesh, it remains a pervasive obstacle to gender equality for women. Sociocultural norms, which legitimize violence against women, are a major reason. The authors argue that reform of traditional informal justice systems, which reaffirm these patriarchal norms, need to be the central focus of feminist research. This working paper explores the literature on two such innovations that aim to provide social justice for low-income women who are survivors of domestic violence: the NGO (Non Governmental Organization)-reformed shalish, which includes women jurors in Bangladesh, and the nari adalat or women’s courts, established by the Mahila Samakhya Program in India. The units of comparison are government affiliation; mediation or arbitration practices; types of disputes; and jury composition. The differences between these two feminist alternate dispute resolution bodies reveals arenas where lessons can be learned. They highlight the advantages and disadvantages of state versus NGO feminism; peer mediator versus upper class mediator; and all-female jury versus mixed-gender jury. In conclusion, the authors recommend that these feminist informal justice systems include communal harmony in their philosophy and conduct proactive outreach so that women, who have been subject to communal violence, can also be petitioners.