IDLO works to empower rural women by enhancing legal knowledge and rights awareness, giving them tools to promote justice in their local communities, and promoting their professional participation in the justice sector. Many women living in rural communities are excluded from decision-making processes and unable to access formal justice structures.
By empowering women and promoting the rule of law in their communities, we can help ensure that everyone truly is equal before the law and equally protected by the law.
To mark International Day of Rural Women 2017, IDLO is sharing some examples of how its work impacts the lives of rural women in a number of regions around the world.
Shirin Ebadi, Human Rights Lawyer and Nobel Peace Laureate, in IDLO's report 'Accessing Justice: Models, Strategies and Best Practices on Women’s Empowerment'
Mosooma is 29 years old. Married with a small child, every few months she travels hundreds of kilometers from her home in the mountainous region of central Afghanistan to a neighboring province to deliver legal training.
As the only woman in a group of two dozen civil and commercial law instructors working for the Afghan government, she thinks few women enter the legal profession because salaries are low and security is a concern. But she also puts it down to the simple fact that lacking transportation facilities make it difficult for women to travel from rural areas to the provincial capital.
Mosooma considers it very important to have more female legal professionals. “Women can’t speak to male lawyers in confidence or share their problems,” she says. “In most cases, they won’t seek out a defense lawyer for their legal issues.”
IDLO research found that Afghan women encounter considerable obstacles in their daily work as legal professionals. In addition to social pressure and negative stereotypes about women’s role in society, they also face practical impediments, such as the lack of safe transportation.
IDLO’s Afghanistan Justice Institution Strengthening (AJIS) program has been delivering civil and commercial law training to justice professionals at the provincial level in in Badakhshan, Balkh, Bamyan, Herat and Nangarhar.
Women play an active role in the agricultural sector in Burundi, where 90% of its population lives in rural areas and many rely on subsistence farming for food.
But studies showed that while women were the main rights holders to nearly 25% of the land, only a small fraction of these rights were actually registered in a woman’s name. This is because under customary law, women’s rights to land are often subject to a superior right of a male family member.
For example, a woman who has been abandoned or widowed has the right to cultivate a portion of her father’s land - a right called igiseke in Burundi. However, she may find it harder to exercise her claim or defend herself if her brother wishes to sell the land and argues that only his name appears on the certificate.
Many key actors involved in the registration process lack awareness about women’s rights to land and ways to protect them, so IDLO held open dialogues at the community level. As a direct result, the recognition of women’s land rights during registration increased considerably, compared to other areas where gender-specific awareness-raising activities had not been conducted:
- Recognition of the right of igiseke registered directly in a woman’s name went up from 2.56 per cent to 12.35 per cent
- Recognition of igiseke as a derived right – where the woman cannot be evicted even if the owner sells the property – went up from 1.13 per cent to 21.67 per cent
- Widows’ rights to their deceased husband’s land increased from 32.21 per cent to 62.50 per cent
IDLO has found that formal administrative processes are often inaccessible to rural women. They have limited capacity to engage with institutions, fewer funds to pay administrative fees, and less access to support networks.
‘Aksakal’ – literally: ‘white-bearded’ – are the old and wise of local communities in Kyrgyzstan. The opinion of an Aksakal is respected. Acting as advisors or judges, these elders play a role in local politics and the informal justice system, particularly in in rural communities that have no easy access to formal courts.
Two-thirds of the population of Kyrgyzstan live in rural areas, and many are served by the 800 or so Aksakal courts around the country.
“In my work, I realized that the main problem is the lack of legal knowledge among Aksakal court members. Most of us do not have legal education; we try to provide justice based on our experience,” said Zamira Mamakeeva, Chair of the Aksakal court in the Chui region.
This spring I participated in training and learned about laws and court processes at a local level. We also received guidebooks with which we ourselves have conducted training for 25 other Aksakal courts. We still have problems to resolve, but we finally have perspective and are trained to participate more effectively in decision making processes.”
Training for Aksakal court members is being facilitated and promoted by the High Justice Training Center with support from the USAID-IDLO Kyrgyzstan Judicial Strengthening Program.
Mya San Ye is a so-called ‘10-Household Head’ in her local village in Kyauktan Township in Myanmar, responsible for administrating the affairs of ten households. Household heads play an important role as the link between the local community and the village administrators. However, few women are elected to these positions, which limits their influence in local governance.
As one of the few female 10-household heads, Mya San Ye participated in training to learn about rule of law principles – such as equality before the law, accountability, transparency and respect for human rights.
“This is my first time attending rule of law training in my life,” she explained after taking part in a workshop. “Before, I wasn’t aware of the need to promote justice issues in my community and I just stayed at home and survived as a shopkeeper. Now, I have rule of law knowledge, and therefore, I’m going to share this knowledge in my community to address local justice issues ourselves.”
To reach community leaders in more remote areas, the IDLO-supported Rule of Law Centres in Myanmar conduct mobile training sessions in rural areas. These sessions enable community leaders to gain a deeper understanding of local legal issues that affect their daily lives.
Photo credits: IDLO/Renee Chartres (Main); IDLO/Afghanistan Ministry of Justice (Afghanistan); IDLO/Renee Chartres (Burundi); IDLO/Aizada Toktogulova (Kyrgyzstan); IDLO (Myanmar)