Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women

by AdvocAid
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Providing Access to Justice for 360 Women
Mother and baby in Correctional Centre
Mother and baby in Correctional Centre

Katumu’s story

Katumu* is a housewife with two children, a five-year-old boy and 18-month-old baby girl. Katumu’s son was beating his little sister one day, and Katumu became angry. In her attempt to discipline and scold her son, she beat him and caused serious injury to his head. Katumu was arrested and spent some time in a police cell before her matter was charged to court.  As she was a suckling mother, her baby daughter stayed with her in the Correctional Centre until the matter was charged to court.

In the Magistrates Court, AdvocAid’s paralegal met with the client and heard her story. Our paralegal engaged the magistrate in his chamber to advocate on behalf of Katumu and her baby, as this was a first-time offence and she was a mother with young children who need her care. Thanks to AdvocAid’s intervention, the magistrate agreed to strongly admonish Katumu and discharge the case from court.

AdvocAid have now referred Katumu onto a counselling service, in order to avoid this situation reoccurring in the future.

Every day, women like Katumu are arrested and imprisoned while they await their trial, instead of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. This practice causes unnecessary physical, emotional and economic stress to women and their families. The stigma attached to being detained means that these women are often shunned from their communities upon release, even if their case has been closed and the woman released.

Thanks to your generous donation, we have been able to provide over 300 women and girls in Sierra Leone just like Katumu with access to justice since our last report. As Sierra Leone works to recover from the effects of Ebola, funds continue to be directed towards health and education programmes, leaving organisations like AdvocAid with limited resources and income. Because of this, your support means more than ever to all at AdvocAid, and the women we support and represent.

This is the final report for this project. Although this project is coming to a close, we now have three brand new Global Giving Projects online. These cover our three major areas of work: (i) providing access to justice, (ii) supporting female detainees and (ii) delivering post prison support to ex-detainees. Please consider continuing to support AdvocAid by donating to one of these projects.

 

*Katumu’s name has been changed to protect her identity

 

Links: Legal Aid and Support for 450 women in Sierra Leone

Supporting 350 female detainees in Sierra Leone

Post-prison support for 300 Women in Sierra Leone

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Stage 1 pupils in Makeni learning letter sounds
Stage 1 pupils in Makeni learning letter sounds

In a survey conducted by AdvocAid in 2014, more than a third of the female inmates in Sierra Leone stated that they had never been to school, whilst 83% of them earned less than US$22 a month. This extreme mix of poverty and lack of education can be very toxic and contribute to women ending up in conflict with the law. AdvocAid provides literacy and numeracy classes for female inmates to break the cycle of illiteracy. Last week the new term started for the female inmates in Makeni.

Fridays and Saturdays are new school days in the women’s wing of the Makeni Correctional Centre, where 13 female inmates are currently learning how to read, write and do basic math. The women are divided into three classes based on their educational level – six in Stage 1, four in Stage 2 and three in Stage 4. The classes are taught by a teacher from EducAid Sierra Leone.

In a country where the mean years of schooling for women only is 2.2 compared to the slightly higher 4 years for men (see UNDP’s Human Development Index in 2015), even basic education can be a powerful tool to successful reintegration of female inmates.

Education programmes in prison have been proven to greatly impact the future prospects of detainees and their families and dramatically reduce recidivism among released inmates as they have greater chances of earning a living. Lack of meaningful activities during incarceration, on the other hand, is harmful for their mental health (WHO). AdvocAid’s literacy and numeracy classes in other words empower female inmates to cope with the stress of incarceration and help them become self-reliant upon release.

Book donation in to male inmates – AdvocAid works primarily with women and girls, but few people know that we are also running a prison library in Freetown’s male correctional centre on Pademba Road. In January, AdvocAid and Practical Tools Initiative delivered a generous book donation from Book Aid International to the inmates there.

Following the book donation, interest from inmates and corrections officers has increased dramatically, and 50 users are now accessing the library daily compared to less than 20 per day before. As one inmate said: “It has provided me solace in this confinement and this is why I am here in the morning as soon as we are released from the block.

Help us continue to provide literacy classes across Sierra Leone – As we wrote in the last report on our anniversary project, we had to put the literacy and numeracy classes temporarily on hold in the last quarter of 2016 due to funding constraints. We are therefore thrilled to have resumed classes in Makeni, and soon we will be able to do the same in Freetown and Kenema. However, we still need support to ensure that the classes can continue throughout the year. Just $45 is enough to provide education for five women for a month, but any donation will make a difference. Thank you in advance for your support!

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Saliatu is now looking ahead, a free woman
Saliatu is now looking ahead, a free woman

While Sierra Leone’s political leaders are dealing with a ravaging financial crisis, and preparing for elections in 2018, its population is suffering from extreme increases in the prices of food, electricity, fuel, and water. In the aftermath of the deadliest ever Ebola outbreak, things are not looking up for Sierra Leone. Everyone feels the crisis, but women and girls are particularly affected.

Sierra Leone is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 181 out of 188 countries on UNDP’s Human Development Index in 2015. It also has one of the highest levels of gender inequality. On average, men earn 25% more than women do, and the mean years of schooling for women is only 2.2 compared to the slightly higher 4 years for men.

The current financial crisis is exacerbating the desperation felt by Sierra Leone’s poor population, especially the women who are family breadwinners. As we highlighted in the last report for our anniversary project, women are more likely to put themselves at risk by obtaining loans or doing less reputable business dealings, when they have the responsibility for the health and education of their children.

Saliatu’s story - 20-year old Saliatu was falsely accused of stealing. When making the arrest, the officer handcuffed her forcefully, which made Saliatu so scared that she fought back. The theft charges were dropped, but instead she was arrested for assault on a police officer.

Unaware of her rights, and with no witnesses to support her, Saliatu pleaded guilty at first. But when AdvocAid’s lawyer took up her case, he encouraged her to change it to self-defence. He made the compelling plea that Saliatu, a petite and quiet girl, would only have fought the much bigger police officer because she felt threatened.

The Magistrate heard the plea, and finally – six months later – Saliatu’s case was closed. Saliatu could go home as a free women, but with deep scars from the experience. Whilst waiting for her defence to be heard, Saliatu had been detained twice. “I cried everyday,” she said. “Prison was the worst experience of my life.”

Why women offend - Saliatu now lives with her aunt while trying to rebuild her life. She is struggling to find money to start selling rice again, so that she can support her family and send her 5-year old son to school. With the increased prices, it has become much harder.

Sadly, Saliatu’s situation is common among female ex-detainees. AdvocAid frequently see women and girls reoffending after being released to an even more desperate situation than the one causing their first encounter with the law. To mitigate this risk, AdvocAid provides educational programmes before and after detention, and we occasionally give small business start-up grants to ex-detainees. However, we fear that the current financial crisis will push more traders like Saliatu into debt and cause more disputes like the one she found herself in. Ultimately, we might see more women and girls in conflict with the law.

Dear supporter, please consider making a regular donation to AdvocAid so that we can continue providing reliable and sustainable rehabilitation services to some of Sierra Leone’s most vulnerable women and girls. We cannot do it without you!

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Women receiving our paralegal's Legal Advice
Women receiving our paralegal's Legal Advice

This month we would like to take a moment to tell you, our GlobalGiving supporters, how your donations are helping AdvocAid provide access to justice for women and girls in rural areas of Sierra Leone. 

In rural areas, women often come into conflict with the law for different reasons than is the case in cities. Extreme poverty and gender-based violence are among some of those reasons. In their first contact with law enforcement and the judiciary, they meet a system suffering from an acute lack of resources. Many police stations do not have enough vehicles or staff to deal swiftly with all the cases reported, including the high numbers of economic offences and domestic violence cases. 

To support the women and girls, who are paying the price for the lack of funding for the justice sector, AdvocAid has opened offices in different parts of Sierra Leone, enabling our paralegals to provide legal aid, counselling, and welfare support to women and girls in detention. This is only possible with the donations we receive on GlobalGiving! 

A Justice Sector stretched thin Ensuring access to justice is highly challenging when mobility, distance and funding are an issue. Without functioning vehicles, it is difficult for the police to follow up on cases reported and conduct proper investigations. Lack of funding and dilapidated infrastructure can result in harsh detention facilities where even food is scarce – if there at all. There are police stations with no separate cells for men and women and no specialised units built for children. 

If the police station does not provide food and sanitation items, then the detainees rely on family to provide it. However, long distances and lacking infrastructure in rural areas mean that detained women and girls often have less contact to their families. Many female detainees, whose family live in other chiefdoms, are therefore facing a severe deficiency of welfare. 

AdvocAid’s expansion – In addition, access to legal advice and representation is lacking in large parts of Sierra Leone. In response, AdvocAid has expanded its operations by opening new offices in Kenema and Koidu City (Kono) in 2015. In these offices, we have paralegals stationed to provide support in legal and welfare issues in the regions. With your help, we have been able to provide legal services to 177 women in and around Bo, Kenema, Kono, Makeni and Waterloo in in the last three months. Of those 177 women, 135 women have been bailed, released or discharged with the help of our mediation.  

Not just legal aid - Especially in the regional offices, where AdvocAid has less staff, it is often the case that the paralegal provides a variety of services. As well as providing welfare items such as medicine, shoes and toothbrushes, paralegals also do legal education, family tracing and post-prison support. The post-prison help can include counselling, transport money for getting back home, and membership of our support group, the Go Bifo Women.

However, to reach even more women and girls, AdvocAid would like to expand its reach even further. With only one vehicle that cannot make it out of Freetown, we would ideally need other forms of transport to support our paralegals. But we do not have enough funds, and so we are still looking for donations and support.

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Numeracy classes in Kenema
Numeracy classes in Kenema

In Sierra Leone, the mean years of schooling for women is only 2.2 years, and 43% of the population cannot read and write. Illiteracy regularly causes women and girls in the criminal justice system to sign confessions they cannot read or plead guilty inadvertently, unaware of the consequences. With support from our generous GlobalGiving donors, AdvocAid is able to offer literacy classes to female inmates and provide some of Sierra Leone’s most vulnerable women with a chance of a brighter future.

Three days every week, teachers from AdvocAid’s long-term partner organisation, Educaid, provide literacy and numeracy classes to female inmates in correctional centres across Sierra Leone. As we are getting closer to the next graduation ceremony in July, we thought we would ask a couple of the students, what they have learnt so far.

22-year old Hannah has been enrolled in our literacy classes for seven out of the nine months she has spent in prison. She went to school when she was younger, but dropped out early. Ever since, she has been wishing to get a chance to go back to school, so when she heard about the classes, she did not hesitate to sign up.

“It has given me hope that I can go back to school when I am released. I did not finish primary school, so I really hope that I can sit the NPSE [National Primary School Exam],” Hannah said.

Encouraging inmates to learn - On average, 48 women attend classes every month in four different correctional centres. Yet the inmates’ motivation often depends on the status of their case, their self-confidence, worries for family issues outside the prison and other problems that may have led them to prison. The teachers and AdvocAid’s staff are therefore doing their best to encourage inmates to attend, make sure that they feel confident to participate in classes and that they learn something new every time.

Another literacy class student, 25-year old Safiatu, has developed new ambitions as a result of her learning.

“At first I went to the classes to keep myself busy and distract myself from thinking too much about my case,” she stated. “It has improved my maths and English skills, and I want AdvocAid to create a level 4.”

Help us provide female inmates with an education – We believe that change can only come about for women in Sierra Leone if they are educated. Poor educational attainment among women creates a huge vulnerability and unhealthy reliance on men, which makes some women prone to coming into conflict with the law.

In addition to our legal aid services, AdvocAid seeks to stop the cycle of illiteracy and provide women in detention with stronger prospects and a brighter future upon release by delivering literacy classes. Our wonderful supporters have made it possible for us to provide access to justice and an education for some of the most neglected women in Sierra Leone, but we still need your help to be able to continue. Just $45 is enough to provide literacy classes for five women for a month, but any donation will make a difference. Thank you in advance for you support!

*The names of our clients have been changed to protect their identities.

Literacy graduation in December 2015
Literacy graduation in December 2015

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Organization Information

AdvocAid

Location: Freetown, Western Region - Sierra Leone
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @advocaid
Project Leader:
Joanna Howarth
Freetown, Western Region Sierra Leone

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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