top of page
  • Writer's pictureEbru Metin

How Can We Enable a Sustainable Future by Improving Gender Equality via Legal Design?

(This article was presented at the Koc University 9th International Law Students' Symposium by Özge Gizem Yerlikaya in May 2021)

Ebru Metin, LL.M.[1], Özge Gizem Yerlikaya[2]


In respect to the globalization and acceleration of technological improvements, societal issues are exponentially aggravating and getting even further problematic to settle. As a mean to create a sustainable future for all, United Nations (UN) conducted a universal call for UN Member States to comply with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. As part of these goals, SDG number 5 is dedicated for gender equality with 9 sub-goals addressing issues such as ending all forms of discrimination and violation against all women and girls, recognizing their civil and economic rights, and empowering them while enabling them to effectively use their rights. Even though there has been progress concerning this field, there has been a regression because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, the need to recognize inequalities and addressing them to enable a gender equal society become a higher priority. Considering that currently public authorities’ focus relies on mitigating the risks born because of pandemic, it is also of considerable importance to frame the problems and creating solutions that would enable gender equal environments and opportunities for all women and girls. We propose using legal design method, which is a creative problem-solving approach, based on human-centered design principles and create gender equal solution prototypes with a specific social focus on using female personas. In our paper, we will analyze several cases such as legal information design for increasing access to justice, legal service design which enables pro-bono lawyers to effectively collaborate with women’s groups and NGO’s and finally quota policies for women in corporate boards in scope of legal system design. We would like to create a gender equal future, which we can only start by doing, and legal design enables such iteration, prototyping and constantly improving solutions.

Keywords: legal design, human-centered design, gender equality, sustainable development, future of law, future of legal profession

(Linkedin Sales Solutions, Unsplash)


Globalization and technology changes economic and societal structures[3] leading to new balances in the society. Especially impact of technological advancements have an amplifying effect on societal challenges both good and bad. As an example, to positive effect of globalization and technological developments could be crowdfunding, global expert networks and social issues gaining global visibility. On the other hand, they also have negative effects such as enabling systemic crises, causing inequalities between citizens through information asymmetry and unequal distribution of incomes[4].

There are several negative effects of the technological advancements upon gender equality either directly or indirectly. For example, data-based technologies where the data includes unconscious biases or artificial intelligence based decision-making using data with biases could lead to continuance of the gender inequality problem with a greater impact[5]. Thus, it is of the utmost importance to also look for solutions while globalization and technology create new ones.

Systemic challenges require systemic efforts to create solutions[6]. As a mean to create a sustainable future for all, United Nations (UN) conducted a universal call for UN Member States to comply with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030[7]. Nevertheless, UN created a framework of sustainable development goals, where all their stakeholders could find ways to contribute to the SDGs. As an example, UN Global Compact, an initiative of UN aims localizing the global goals which has several activities leading to business awareness and action in support of achieving SDGs[8].

One of the SDGs, SDG 5 is dedicated to gender equality that has the goal to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. Thus, we see a part of the systemic framework that UN created directly aims to fight with gender inequality. Under SDG5, target 5b particularly dedicated to the enhancing “the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women”. This is particularly important to create equal access to information and digital literacy for women at all levels.

In this paper, we will explore how legal design can create human-centered solutions to enable a gender equal future and how legal design can contribute to this systemic framework.

The Effects of Covid-19 Pandemics on the Gender Equality

We should pay sufficient attention to the fact that there has been a progress regarding gender equality when it is compared to the past. For example, more girls have the opportunity to go to school, more women are able to work, early marriage rates are decreased, and governments are reforming their nations’ laws to provide gender equality. Most women around the world have the right to vote, while it was not the case a century ago. Even though beforementioned developments are very remarkable, there is still a long way to achieve gender equality.

Times of economic uncertainty, civil unrest, and disasters always increased gender inequality and Covid-19 is not an exception. Despite the all beforementioned developments, Covid-19 pandemic seriously crippled improvements in this field. The economic and social fallouts of pandemic is keep having a profound effect on women and gender equality. While the impact of the pandemic on this issue manifests itself in many different areas, the most prominent ones are i) increase in violence against women and girls, ii) increase of unpaid work of women, iii) deprioritization of women’s careers and girl’s school lifes.

UN defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."[9] Covid-19 outbreak brought a sharp increase in violence against women cases all around the world. In Jianli County, Hubei province of China, a police department reported a tripling of domestic violence cases in February 2020 compared with February 2019, estimating that 90% were related to the covid-19 epidemic. [10] In the UK, a project tracking violence against women noted that deaths from domestic abuse between 23 March and 12 April had more than doubled (to 16 deaths) compared with the average rate in the previous 10 years.[11] In the Turkey, according to Istanbul Security Directorate, there has been 38.2% increase in domestic violence cases in March 2020 compared to March 2019.[12]

Altough every people’s unpaid workloads are increased, women are bearing more of the burden than men according to a report by UN Women. Women are also taking on a greater intensity of care-related tasks than men. Meanwhile, parents are getting more help from daughters than sons.[13]

With the increase in working from home and the time spent in the house during the epidemic, the care obligations and time spent on housework increased for women and girls. The worldwide surveys on that matter proves that women are spending so much time from men regarding caring for and supervising children, caring for adults, indoor housework including cleaning and laundry, outdoor housework and repairs, cooking and baking, shopping for groceries and household essentials. Most of the women could not devote enough time to their professional lives due to the increase in housework, childcare, and the fact that they were the one who has been held responsible for. The fact that the obligation to bear housework is on a single gender has also affected girls. Girls, who had to devote their time to online education and studying, started to devote their time to housework, and some of them had to interrupt their education directly or indirectly.

According to McKinsey’s data, women’s jobs are found to be 1,8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic compared to men. Women make up 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses.[14] New York Times Magazine stated the “recession” regarding the jobs lost in last year as “shecession” since a majority of it were held by women. According to the analysis of the National Women’s Law Center in United States, the female unemployment has reached double digits for the first time since 1948 and pandemic is the major reason for that. [15]

Therefore, the need to recognize inequalities and addressing them to enable a gender equal society become a higher priority considering it is increasing day after day and Covid-19 is a call to be more awaken. As we explained above, as part of the Covid-19 measures, with the increase of working from home and the time spent in the home, the care obligations and time spent on household chores on women and girls are also increasing. In addition, women and girls are increasingly facing domestic violence. If these problems are not tackled, gender inequalities will deepen. While it is necessary to further the gains achieved through great struggles and social transformation regarding women's rights, we should not allow the crisis to distract us from this goal.

Considering that currently public authorities’ focus relies on mitigating the risks born because of pandemic, it is also of considerable importance to frame the problems and creating solutions that would enable gender equal environments and opportunities for all women and girls. Although it is quite understandable that public authorities tend to regulate the law focusing on saving lives, gender inequality is an issue that endangers human life as much as the pandemic.

Legal Design as a Tool to Create Gender Equal Solutions

Legal design is a creative problem-solving method, which is the application of human-centered design in legal services and systems[16]. Legal design is used both as a mean to create better experiences for private sector clients and with a social view, an innovative method to increase access to justice for all[17]. This trend is also foreseen by Reena Sengupta who has seen “a growing evidence of successful applications of legal design” as she mentioned in her article published on Financial Times[18].

Legal design is an exponential field where the applications of legal design is expanding to different fields every day. Besides legal designers who are pioneering the field we also see many examples from university student clubs[19], legal labs[20] and self-made pioneering communities[21].

Fundamentally, legal design enables people to regain their perspective on a topic, frame the problem and create human-centered solutions by empathizing with the end users. Empathy is one of the key skills while carrying out legal design workshops with the purpose to empower users with usable and satisfying solutions. The legal design process also creates a never-ending cycle with its last step for continuous improvements. Thus, sustainable solutions is possible as long as the feedback and improvement loop to be in effect.

As mentioned before, legal design has a power to create solutions for the societal challenges. One societal challenge which can also be regarded in scope of gender inequality is the access to justice problems that women face who work as caregivers, nannies, and home-based assistive personnel. A very creative example from the legal design field is the NuLaw Lab’s project, “Project Nanny Van”[22]. In scope of this legal service design project, the NuLaw Lab and its students collaborated with Rev Tank and Marisa Jahn where they ended up creating a van that goes to locations where nannies possibly frequented such as playgrounds, parks etc. The aim of this van is to meet with nannies and inform them about their legal rights within the flexibility of their daily schedule[23]. The value of this project is enhancing the access to justice of women by improving their legal literacy.

Legal Design Process in Detail for Creating Gender Equal Solutions

Legal design methodology is based on human centered design and thus the underlying process makes is quite easy to create a solution that would benefit all persons. Human centered design puts individuals in the core of the process, which would enable the legal designers to create solutions that align best with the needs of the individual.

Before focusing creating gender equal solutions, it is also important to look at the legal design process. According to the Law by Design open web-book of Margaret Hagan, legal design method composed of five essential steps: (i) discover, (ii) synthesize, (iii) build, (iv) test and (v) evolve. In the discovery part, it is essential to get to know the system surrounding the individuals and the individuals themselves. Once we gathered all the data and information, the second part -synthesize- functions as a phase where the information is turned into insights[24].

One of the practices in order to understand users is to creating personas to understand users’ needs, experiences and behaviors. A persona is a fictional character based upon the research in order to see the system through individual’s eyes and represent them while designing the new service, information or system.

When we set our goal to close the gender equality gap and particularly empowering women, we need to understand women’s needs, experiences, and goals in each case. This will also enable us to see the factors creating the gender gap and design solutions accordingly. Similarly, we believe beyond men/women personas, we can create several personas considering all disadvantaged groups who will be using the legal service or legal information in the future. As an example, we can reconsider legal information guides and try to see them if they create any information asymmetry between women and men. In this regard, it is crucial to test legal information guides with potential users and to see if they meet their information needs.

Another example of legal information design to fight with gender inequality would be the legal guides which aims to empower women when they face discrimination or other mistreatments based on their gender. Beyond ‘know your rights’ guides, guides that would enable women to take action would be very effective. A fictional example would be a guide where a woman can both learn how to act against harassment or pro-actively how to negotiate for a position or salary increase.

In any case, having legal design workshops with multi-disciplinary participant and testing workshop outcomes with real life users are essential for a sustainable solution. Testing is especially should be planned and implemented in a structured way in order to have meaningful feedback and to apply improvements on the outcomes (guides, new services etc.).

Legal Design, Pro-Bono Services and Collaborating with NGOs

Due to beforementioned reasons, this pandemic shed light on the absence of mechanisms regarding struggle against gender-based violence, and the inefficacy of the already existing mechanisms.[25] This is why we need more than the usual legal service design. Legal service design is a way of assessing and creating legal services, with a focus on how usable, useful, and engaging these services are.[26]

One of the many obstacles in the world for those who suffer from gender equality violations to access justice is the inadequacy of free legal services. Legal service design also enables pro-bono lawyers to effectively collaborate with women’s groups and NGO’s which focuses women’s rights or gender equality.

Pro bono is quite common in countries where the Anglo-Saxon legal system is dominant, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. So much so that in some states of the USA, Pro Bono has been obliged to act as a lawyer, and it is known that European states are making efforts to increase these studies in this field. Pro Bono is not compulsory and not clearly regulated in Turkey and pro bono cases are mostly carried out by socially sensitive lawyers or big law firms. Lawyers who are at the beginning of their professional life and have not yet earned enough money may face a lack of time and resources to take pro-bono cases. Although the minimum fee tariff is determined by the bar associations for lawyers, the lawyer can provide free service by notifying the bar association to which they are affiliated. It is very important and necessary to popularize pro bono works through legal service design method for lawyers who wishes to work for gender equality. It may be a solution proposal to provide lawyers with stimulating benefits in terms of providing legal services in matters that may be important in terms of gender equality, and that they are covered by public institutions.

One of the most necessary points of designing pro bono legal processes with legal service design method is to facilitate access to these services by those exposed to gender inequality. Laws should be regulated in a way to protect people who are disadvantaged in gender equality. While drafting the aforementioned laws, the situations in which individuals in society have been subjected to inequality from past to present should be taken into consideration. In order to seek legal solutions to the family law problems of individuals, including domestic violence, coordinated work should be carried out with the legal aid units of bar associations for the necessary support to individuals. Legal rights trainings should be organized for individuals who do not have sufficient information about their legal rights arising from gender inequality and where to apply. In order to ensure gender equality, cooperation and joint studies should be carried out in solidarity with women's organizations, various NGOs, local governments and governorship units. To contribute to the elimination of all forms of gender discrimination against individuals, to promote concrete equality between women and men, to support the implementation of equality of women and men in laws and the implementation of equal rights, to protect and support victims of violence against women and domestic violence Measures should be designed and legal and social studies should be conducted on this subject.

Legal System Design and Quota Policies for Women in Corporate Boards

Women’s leadership and political participation is considered essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by UNDP but due to its data, the situation is different, and women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide and achieving gender parity in political life is far off.[27] Gender-balanced decision making is an important tool for accessing development, democracy and security in every areas of life including corporations.

Over the last decade, several countries have followed the Norwegian example and introduced laws mandating gender quota for corporate board membership which is a challenging example of legal system design.[28] Despite the aforementioned gender quota for corporate board membership in various countries, the progress toward achieving gender diversity in corporate board is still slow. Only 5% of the 500 CEOs on the 2016 Fortune 500 list are women, a mere 27 out of 500. Men are two to three times more likely to hold senior management positions, a figure that has stagnated for almost 30 years despite widespread efforts to remedy this imbalance.[29] The International Labour Organization states that they find over 50 per cent of companies surveyed in 2018 have low representation of women on their boards (less than 30 per cent) and over 13 per cent have all male boards.[30]

Legal system design is a method of designing legal systems for them to function better, serve people and provide higher value.[31] Designing quotas for corporation is an important way to deal with gender-gap which is born as a result of deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny. By creating corporate quotas, we ensure more equal numbers of men and women on boards and once the women are on board, they will be more likely to hire more women.


Gender equality means equal opportunity, rights, and treatment. Gender equality means the process of being fair to all genders. We would like to create a gender equal future, which we can only start by doing, and legal design enables such iteration, prototyping and constantly improving solutions.

References [1] Founder, Legal Design Turkey [2] Legal Counsel; LLM Candidate, Galatasaray University [3] H. Guyford Stever; Janet H. Muroyama, ‘Globalization of Technology: International Perspectives’ <> accessed 02.05.2021 [4] Ganna Kharlamova, Adriy Stavytskyy, Grigoris Zarotiadis, ‘The Impact of Technological Changes on Income Inequality: The EU States Case Study’ <> accessed 02.05.2021 [5] Alison Wynn, ‘Why Tech’s Approach tp Fixing Its Gender Inequality Isn’t Working’ <> accessed 02.05.2021 [6] Gus Speth, ‘Systemic Problems Require Systemic Solutions: Time to Talk About the Next System’ <> accessed 02.05.2021 [7] United Nations, 2The Sustainable Development Agenda’, accessed 26.04.2021 [8] UN Global Compact, ‘Making Global Goals Local Business’ < > accessed 26.04.2021 [9] United Nations. Declaration on the elimination of violence against women. New York : UN, 1993. [10] Allen-Ebrahimian B. China’s domestic violence epidemic. Axios 2020 Mar 7. [11] Grierson J. Domestic abuse killings ‘more than double’ amid covid-19 lockdown. Guardian. 2020 Apr 15. [12] The Economic and Social Impact of Covid-19 on Women and Men – UN Women <> [13] Whose Time To Care? Unpaid Care and Domestic Work During Covid-19 – UN Women <> accessed: 02.05.2021 [14] Covid-19 and Gender Equality – McKinsey Global Institue accessed 02.05.2021 [15] Why Some Women Call This Recession a ‘Shecession’- The New York Times accessed 02.05.2021 <> [16] Margaret Hagan, ‘Law by Design’, <> accessed 22.04.2021 [17] Ebru Metin, ‘Enabling Change in the Society via Legal Design: Part I’ <> accessed 02.05.2021 [18] Ibid. [19] Baskent Law Society is Turkey’s first student-led community for legal design: >> accessed 04.05.2021 [20] Kadir Has University LIT Lab partly carries out legal design activites: accessed 04.05.2021 [21] Legal Design Turkey is Turkey’s first legal design community for co-learning, collaborating and co-creation: <> accessed 04.05.2021 [22] NuLaw Lab <> accessed 04.05.2021 [23] Open Law Lab – Project Nanny Van <> accessed 04.05.2021 [24] Margaret Hagan, ‘Law by Design’, <> accessed 22.04.2021 [25] The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Gender Equality: Problems and Solutions Meeting -Final Report by Sabanci Foundation < accessed 01.05.2021 [26] Margaret Hagan, ‘Law by Design’, <> accessed 22.04.2021 [27] Facts and figures: Women’s leadership and political participation – UN Women <> accessed 4.05.2021 [28] Female Leadership and Gender Gap within Firms: Evidence from an Italian Board Reform – Agata Maida, Andrea Weber [29] Quotas: Pros and Cons – Rotman, Institute for Gender + The Economy [30] Improving Gender Diversity in Company Boards – International Labour Office [31] Margaret Hagan, ‘Law by Design’, <> accessed 22.04.2021

24 views0 comments


bottom of page