03.31.11

The Fight for Greater Justice for Women

Women judges from around the world converge on Washington this week for the Virtue Foundation Senior Round Table on Women and the Judiciary, an event that seeks to find ways to promote justice for women around the globe. Newsweek/Daily Beast Women in the World is there to present a special panel at the State Department.

Here, Dr. Ebby Elahi, director of international programming and global health at Virtue Foundation, explains how medicine and law must work together for women's equality.

This week over 50 prominent women judges from around the world are gathering at the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Department of State to discuss ways to use their expertise to improve how women experience justice. What is perhaps unique about this gathering is that, in addition to the women judges, a wider range of disciplines is represented, from politics to medicine. This is why, as a surgeon, I too am participating in the Virtue Foundation Roundtable for Women and the Judiciary.

Listening to these women judges discuss approaches to eradicating violence against women, it is evident that for development to be successful (be it in health or any other discipline), it is important to approach projects in a multidisciplinary fashion. Indeed, so many victims, especially women across the globe, often experience their first encounter with justice at a health-care facility where they share their grief with the practitioner. Domestic abuse, rape and other forms of violent crimes may sometimes be hidden from the eyes of the law, but they rarely escape the clinician’s perception. A multidisciplinary approach is therefore essential if we are to empower women and girls, not only as a human rights imperative, but also as a global development strategy.

Anyone involved in relief efforts in the developing world knows that long-term sustainable success lies in the education and empowerment of girls. This point recently was reiterated by prominent leaders and advocates at Newsweek & The Daily Beast's Women in the World summit held in March. Educated girls become empowered women who are less likely to have early and unplanned childbirth. They are also less likely to silently endure abuse and more likely to raise children who will grow to be respectful of all human beings regardless of their gender.

Domestic abuse, rape and other forms of violent crimes may sometimes be hidden from the eyes of the law, but they rarely escape the clinician’s perception.

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Pakistani women during a rally for the empowerment of women in Lahore on March 7, 2011 on the eve of International Women's Day. (Photo by Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Upon hearing the creative ways that women judges are improving access to justice, implementing or changing laws to better protect women and training a new generation of advocates, it became clear that medicine and law have a shared goal of improving human lives. Indeed, by working across disciplines we can find comprehensive and holistic solutions that address more than a simple complaint or a health-care concern.

Dr. Ebby Elahi is a New York-based surgeon, director of International Programming and Global Health at Virtue Foundation and associate clinical professor of Ophthalmology and Global Health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He also serves on the Steering Committee of the Avon Center for Women and Justice.