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Family courts and women's access to justice


The project aims at studying the current state of gendered access to justice in the oPt. The project seeks to achieve its aims by undertaking much needed qualitative research on gendered access to justice focusing particularly on experiences within the Shari'a courts in the West Bank and Gaza. Using qualitative research approaches, including ethnography to understanding law.

Given its centrality in shaping women’s citizenship rights, in particular, and access to justice more generally, this study will focus on gender and the law in terms of prevailing family law in the West Bank and Gaza and women's experiences within the Shari'a courts. As an initial exploration we further propose to focus on three or four key areas in which ever-married women (married women, widows and divorcees) most commonly seek justice through the Shari'a courts. These areas are likely to include some or all of the following: divorce, separation, maintenance, and child custody.

Other possible areas of exploration may include inheritance, obedience (Ta’a) and dower issues. Some of these issues are often settled out of court and would thus require investigating out of court settlement processes and possibly some investigations into women's experience of customary law.

As in all qualitative studies, the final scope of the research will be determined iteratively through the research process. Thus preliminary findings on the priority issues, institutions and actors will then inform the direction and weight of the research’s subsequent focus – rather than being completely pre-determined prior to engaging in fieldwork. Thus the weight given to the various areas of gender justice within family law will emerge from the research process itself with initial findings shaping subsequent research priorities, as well as taking into account the practicalities of time and resources.

Overall objective:

This study shall be drawing on socio-legal theory – which emphasizes the importance of understanding the law in the context of the social, political and economic factors that affect the way it operates in practice. This study will offer fresh insights to legal practitioners working within government, the private sector and civil society on issue of gender justice and access to law.
The objective of the study shall include:

  • Providing the needed knowledge on law in action and thus provide insights, open discussions and debate on how law reform can most effectively advance the rights of women in the oPt. 
  • Identifying barriers to equal participation in the legal system
  • The study in the short term will provide us with a picture of the general dynamics of how the law works as a social and gendered process in the oPt and pinpoint specific areas where women face significant obstacles to effectively accessing justice. 
  •  The study will identify the range and diversity of experiences, including constraints and enabling processes, for women across the law subject to study.
  • This study will expand and diverse legal scholarship on access to justice, gendered experiences to law, and law in action. The study will contribute to the strengthening of law schools programmes to include more socio-legal studies, with particular emphasis on creating capacity in feminist legal scholarship. 
  •  IoL believes that this study will not only provide critical, in-depth insights into women's experiences in areas where women most frequently seek legal recourse to secure justice but will also provide the groundwork necessary to pinpoint where and with what focus longer term ethnographic observation should be undertaken in the future.


November 2012- December 2013


United Nations Development Program


Reem Al- Botmeh: Senior Legal Researcher
Ala’ Balbisy: Assistant researcher
Ala’ Hammad : Assistant Researcher