EWLA- making a stand for Women’s Rights!!!
The Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) is a non-profit women’s advocacy group founded by Ethiopian women lawyers. It was legally registered in 1995 and began operation in 1996. EWLA is headquartered in Addis Ababa and has six branches in Bahir Dar, Assosa, Hawassa, Adama/Nazareth, Diredawa and Gambella. The branch/regional offices are supported by 53 trained voluntary committee members organized at woreda and zonal levels; these offices provide structures to reach women at grass root level in Ethiopia.
EWLA’s vision is to see a country where women are equal to men and articulates its mission as promoting the economic, political, social and legal rights of women and assist them to secure full protection of their rights under the Constitution of Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and other international human rights conventions.
The Association, to achieve its mission, works through three core programs:
Under its Legal Aid Program EWLA assists women, particularly disadvantaged women, who are victims of gender-based violence free of charge. The service includes legal advice/counseling, writing court briefs (court charges and affidavits) as well as representing clients in courts.
The second program, Public Education and Capacity Building Program works on raising awareness on women’s rights. This program conducts training and advocacy workshops on the legal, social and political rights of women for students, government, and civil society organization (CSO) employees.
Through the third program, Research and Law Reform Advocacy, EWLA conducts various researches on women’s rights issues and findings are used as a major resource for law reform advocacy and public education.
Since its establishment in 1996 through its three major programs (legal research, public education and legal aid), EWLA has been addressing the issue of violence against women among many other issues. It has also made successful advocacy work which brought about law reforms on the family law, pension law and the criminal code which now has separately addressed domestic violence as a crime, though not sufficiently. The extensive public education works have helped increase awareness on the rights of women and response/support mechanisms.
The main objective of the legal aid program is to provide legal aid, including legal assistance and court representation services to women. The other main objective is to analyze the cases of these clients and identify trends of problems so that the result could be used to reinforce the advocacy activities of the association. The department targets women, particularly those who cannot afford to pay for legal services.
Legal Aid, handled by experienced lawyers and certified paralegals, is the most important service of EWLA both in its magnitude and coverage where over 113,000 clients across the country have received this service to date. Children, twofold of this number, have benefitted from the service since many women’s needs are related with issues of their children. The paralegals, trained and organized under several committees at grass root level and supervised by the branch offices, provide legal advice to women living around rural areas. Legal aid services are also provided by employees of the Association including volunteer legal professionals who are willing to provide pro-bono service.
EWLA’s legal aid program has played a key role in establishing its credibility and building its constituency through providing free legal aid service to disadvantaged women whose rights are violated. Previously, these women whose basic rights were denied had no recourse but to accept injustice. EWLA’s legal assistance has helped them with access to demand their legal rights in courts. Its impact goes beyond the outcome of any court decision. The awareness that women who are too poor to afford legal fees may still have access to justice strengthens their ill perceived position.
Different activities have been undertaken to help out female victims of violence as considerable number of the cases that come to the legal aid service are cases of gender based violence. The activities include providing legal advice at the office of EWLA, preparing various documents such as petitions, court briefs, affidavits and memorandum of appeals. In addition, depending on the seriousness of the case, staff and members of the association represent selected client cases in courts.
The following case that was resolved in the month of August, 2015 shows the commitment of EWLA volunteers to help victims get redress. A poor woman, who lived off of a small income through washing other peoples’ clothes, was a victim who came to seek EWLA’s legal support seven years ago. Her case was concerning a condominium apartment she acquired through winning a government tender. However, she was unable to make the down payment. It was in this instance that she asked for a loan of three thousand birr in return for which she agreed to allow the creditor to use her house for two years. The person, after living in the condominium unit for over two years, refused to return the apartment back to the woman. As a result, she sued the person, with the help of EWLA, to return her lawful property. The defendant brought a counter claim against her for a repayment of four hundred thousand birr which he claimed he loaned to her which was found to be a fraud. As it was found out that the litigant had her sign two more contracts (of house sale and donation of the same house). EWLA’s lawyers had to bring a new suit (a third one) against the person requesting the invalidation of the three contracts which took around three years but was successful. Finally a fourth suit needed to be brought against the litigant to gain a decree for the return of the condominium which took two more years but the case settles in her favor. Now that justice has been served, the woman gets her rightful property back together with sufficient compensation. Boundless gratitude of EWLA goes to the four lawyers who represented the lady in the different stages of the case.
The types of remedies sought for the clients vary. There have been instances where EWLA’s members and staff go to administrative bodies when clearly stated laws are infringed. EWLA has maintained good relationship with the police and the public prosecutors over the years. Moreover, EWLA has been engaged in selecting and training a number of police from different stations on different aspects of gender based violence so that they will be able to handle cases of violence with sensitivity. This training has been serving to clarify confusions in the law and narrowing the gap between the law and the practice. EWLA monitors this process very closely with a periodic follow up meetings with the police to measure progress and to discuss challenges. The establishment of police focal points at every region that EWLA is present has brought results which sustained its initiatives. EWLA’s effort has encouraged the government the role as the primary body concerned with ensuring gender sensitivity in the legal system.
EWLA understands the support women get need not be limited to legal services. Hence, it coordinates provision of a referral service for psycho-social services for those who need it. In the year 2006, EWLA also started a hotline service for victims of gender based violence to provide better solutions and hence improving their access to justice. Through this hotline service, EWLA was able to provide assistance even travelling to wherever the clients may be–in essence bringing the office to them for further advice and assistance as well as arranging appropriate facilities. Unfortunately, this service is not currently provided by EWLA due to financial constraints.
EWLA believes it has changed the lives of thousands of women at lower level of the social stratum who have been victims of gender based violence through its legal aid services. The main indicator of this success is the testimonies received from the beneficiaries themselves. EWLA’s contributions of changing these women’s lives for the better have been amplified through radio programs.
EWLA carried all its ambitions through faithful volunteers and undying desire of its founders and members to help those who are less fortunate than us. The unique effort and systemic change that was possible through EWLA’s mission of giving legal aid assistance throughout Ethiopia is monumental and will hopefully last as long as there is a need to correct unlawful practices and injustice. Providing quality (and free in most cases) legal aid service is the niche of EWLA. Currently 20 lawyers and over 280 volunteers serve at the head and regional offices.
In terms of Public Education and Capacity building, a key element is to be aware of one’s rights and having the self-confidence to assert them. Those who are unaware of their rights are unlikely to demand them and Ethiopian women have often been unaware of their basic human rights for so long. In most cases, Ethiopian women are told to accept inferiority to their male counterparts and to believe that they have fewer rights and less capacity. To be able to effectively challenge the denial of rights, they need to challenge and reject the self- views of weakness and lack of capacity that constrain them. Awareness of their rights through education is one of the main methods that can be carried out to solve this problem. EWLA has a legacy of providing public education on women’s rights and laws on violence against women. To this end, millions of people have benefited from various public education programs throughout the years.
The public education program plays an important role in disseminating information on issues affecting women via workshops, trainings, publications, radio transmissions and print media to various target groups. The recipients of the trainings, seminars and workshops range from criminal justice agencies such as police, public prosecutors and judges to people at the grass root level including students and workers of different organizations, people in the capital city as well as the regions.
The most frequently employed methods of educating the public on these issues include media: radio, television, press, and printed materials such as periodic magazines, journals, brochures, etc. Still other means of educating the public are organizing public education workshops in selected target areas. In the last fifteen years alone, over 70,000 women and men participated in such workshops directly and over three million people indirectly.
In its effort to reach more people, EWLA conducted a radio program from Oct. 1 1999- Mar. 30, 2001 on FM 97.1 twice a week for 20 minutes. The issue of violence against women was one of the major issues raised. Since November 2001, EWLA has been transmitting an educational weekly radio program –“Berchi” – on National Radio. Public announcements with the intent to educate women on different topics have been made on EBC on different occasions.
EWLA also took the initiative to form a gender based network with other interest groups in women’s social, economic, legal and political rights, to give the women’s movement better visibility. In addition, it has been facilitating the active involvement of CSOs involved in social and economic services and private individuals on rights issues including organizing” stop- violence” rallies.
EWLA’s regional branch offices have become essential forums providing women with the necessary legal support and playing a key role in women’s rights advocacy. Their contribution to mobilizing grassroots support is central to realizing EWLA’s objectives. Moreover, there are some voluntary committees directly organized by the association’s head office in Addis Ababa.
EWLA continues to educate the public at large to bring about attitudinal changes regarding the issue of violence against women. Indicators show that the association has succeeded in its effort to create awareness among the society and women in particular.
The public awareness programs conducted by EWLA will produce a society less tolerant of any gender-based violence perpetrated against women. Another important area of activity for EWLA is its research and law reform advocacy. In order to strive for the attainment of Ethiopian women’s rights in areas where there is gender discrimination or gender gap, EWLA undertakes research projects that are often used as a basis for advocacy, legal reform and related programs. Ensuring the sustainability of a project helps to realize the goals set out initially. EWLA has sufficient expertise, knowledge and success story in advocacy and campaigning work aimed at securing reform of discriminatory laws like the revised family law and the criminal law which directly as well as indirectly perpetuated violation of women’s rights. Also, the successive publications and awareness creation works have gained acceptance of the general public that greatly facilitated the implementation of these laws.
Research has been the core component of EWLA’s program activities since its establishment. The research findings serve as advocacy materials in order to bring about policy and practice changes. The repeal of discriminatory laws and introduction of new laws provide better protection for women and their rights. With respect to creating awareness, the research findings are used to create public and official awareness in order to make the protection of women’s rights a reality.
The provision of the revised Family Law of 2000 is one of the main achievements of this department. The law included most of the major concerns of EWLA on women’s matrimonial rights.
Likewise, EWLA has been advocating for the amendment of the Penal Law of 1957 and the Criminal Procedure Code from the time it has commissioned a research on the rights of women under the Ethiopian Penal Law in the year 1997. The major concerns of EWLA on the Penal Law included issues of explicitly outlawing the practice of FGM, and other HTPs (Harmful Traditional Practices), domestic violence and critically reviewing the provisions relating with rape, abduction and other sexual offences. In addition, the association strongly lobbied for the amendment of the Criminal Procedure Code so as to review the procedures that need to be taken in proving crimes that take place behind closed doors such as rape and domestic violence to put the criminal liability on the offenders. A number of researches have been made on issues of violence against women in order to equip them with the relevant information on the magnitude and profile of violence and to gather adequate data with regard to the institutional responses made on violence against women when reported to law enforcement bodies.
A new Criminal Code was adopted by the FDRE in 2005. Although most of EWLA’s recommendations on FGM and other HTPs are accepted and acted upon (for which EWLA credits the law-making government organ) there are no provisions that give adequate protection from sexual harassment and domestic violence. Sexual harassment is one form of gender based violence, which affects both girls and women, especially those in educational institutions and at workplaces. Realizing the importance of a clear legal framework to protect women and girls from sexual harassment and domestic violence, EWLA still focuses on these two issues when it organizes dialogue forums as well as capacity building trainings. It bases its advocacy efforts with regard to these issues on the assessments it has conducted and continues to conduct.
EWLA understands that endeavors for the realization of women’s rights entail networking and collaborating with stakeholders. Hence EWLA networks with national women’s machineries, law enforcement organs, judiciary, human rights’ institutions and different administrative structures as well as civil society organizations. In particular, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, the Federal Supreme Court, regional women’s affairs offices, Network of Ethiopian Women Associations, Association for Women’s Sanctuary and Development (shelter for female victims), etc… have collaborated with EWLA at different levels of interventions.
In terms of Resource Mobilization, EWLA works with financial support drawn from local sources, especially national government as well as private institutions and individuals collected through different fundraising mechanisms. The fundraising efforts include different forms of membership fees, organizing events, case sponsorship, donations, etc.
EWLA invites you all to support its work, become change agents and stand for the betterment of women’s lives in Ethiopia!
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