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.