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FIDA draws up project to provide legal aid, education for women

BY: Arku Jasmine

The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Ghana has drawn a three-year project to provide legal aid and legal education for women.

The project, which started this year, is intended to empower women through access to justice programmes as well as to promote and protect women’s rights through the provision of legal aid and legal education.  

The three-year project is funded by the Open Society of Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

This was made known at a workshop organised as part of the implementation of the project in Accra to share trends of women’s right violations and create quick referrals systems among the actors, including the police, judiciary and non-governmental organisations.

According to the Project Co-ordinator of FIDA, Ms Benedicta Laryea, the project focuses on three target areas, namely Ga Mashie, Weija and Madina communities.

As part of the project, she said, paralegals were being trained on basic laws to enable them to educate women at the markets and in the community on their human rights through the organisation of community outreaches and to offer legal services.

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Other activities include encouraging women to go to the court to seek redress and educate them on economic, marital, property rights and child maintenance, she said.

She stated that so far about 90 paralegals had been trained and were already on the field.

Rationale of the project

“Legal aid reports over the past five years show that women in the three targeted communities are regularly denied their property rights and child support for their children,” Ms Laryea stated.

She added that women were subjected to violence by their partners.

“Aggravating this situation is the fact that 74 per cent of women were found to be ignorant of their property and human rights,” she said and mentioned marital dispute and maintenance and estates as the most reported cases at the legal aid centre.

Challenges women face

Ms Laryea explained that experiences recounted during community outreach programmes revealed that the belief of some people in the communities discouraged women from reporting abusive spousal behaviour to any institution for redress, as they perceived that to mean purposely disgracing the men.

“Widows are also deprived of jointly acquired marital properties. A widow is not considered a part of her deceased husband’s family under both patrilineal and matrilineal inheritance traditions,” she said.

However, she said, women were reluctant to report such cases and abuse for fear of society’s reactions and superstitions.

The Legal Aid Co-ordinator of FIDA, Ms Noelle Appiah, underscored the need for actions which were essential to ensure equal access to justice and to avoid gender inequalities that would stifle Ghana’s economic and social progress.

She said the association believed that the Access to Justice programme must be strengthened over the next three years in order to respond more effectively to the legal needs of women, children and the marginalised.

The legal system

Ms Appiah stated that although the Intestate Succession Law took effect in 1985, the discriminatory customary law was regularly used in most communities.

The Intestate Succession (Amendment) Law 1991 states that “it is a criminal offence for anyone to sack or eject a spouse and children from a matrimonial home for the distribution of the property. Action to be taken is to report to the police.”

She said the Children’s Act, 1998 (Act 560) also protects the rights of children and stressed the need to effectively implement the law to avoid abuse of the rights of vulnerable persons, mostly women and children.

The Executive Director of FIDA, Madam Jane Quaye, explained that though they might not reach every woman with the project, they would ensure that through dialogue and education more women would be empowered to know their rights.

By Salomey Appiah/Ghana