Free legal aid services helping Zambian rural women access justice

MANSA, Zambia, March 16 (Xinhua) — For many years Susan Mwansa, 38, suffered both verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws.

Mwansa, a resident of Chimese, a peri-urban area in Mansa, the provincial capital of Luapula province of Zambia, recounts how she endured humiliation and pain, simply because of not being aware of her entitlements.

“My husband would physically assault me even in the presence of our children. This happened for almost five years and mostly when he was drunk,” she said.

But that all changed when Mwansa’s friend advised her to seek help from Mansa District Women Development Association, a non-profit organization that among other things, offers free legal aid to the poor and vulnerable.

“My husband is now fully aware of the dangers of violence against and makes it a point to educate other men about treating women with respect and dignity,” said an elated Mwansa who thanked Mansa District Women Association for helping to transform her husband by engaging him in human rights discussions.

Like Mwansa, many rural women have benefited from the free legal aid services offered by Mansa District Women Association paralegal officers found at legal advice desks located in Mansa’s poorer communities.

Aside from offering free basic legal information on a wide range of issues, the said paralegal officers also serve as mediators in disputes and facilitate human rights education programs targeting women and vulnerable people in rural and peri-urban areas of Mansa.

“More women in Mansa have become aware of their rights and are able to seek help. This can be attributed to the sensitization programs that we have been undertaking in partnership with other women-centered organizations,” said Elizabeth Mushili, Mansa District Women Association coordinator.

Mushili explained that Mansa District Women Association, which started operating in 2000 and decided to incorporate free legal aid services in its programs in the year 2006 so as to ensure that rural women can also have access to justice.

She pointed out that high illiteracy and poverty levels among the female folk in rural areas of Mansa district had for a long time prevented a lot of women from accessing legal aid.

“Even those that are able to read and write have challenges accessing legal aid services because they cannot afford the fees demanded by law firms,” Mushili noted.

Every year, Mansa District Women Development Association reaches over 1,300 people including men through its legal aid services and human rights education programs

source: xinhuanet

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