Discover the Latest Innovations and Lessons Learned in Rule of Law and Legal Empowerment Projects
Check out this interesting interview by the World Justice Project with the founder of the 50/50 Group in Sierra Leone on her work helping women learn about their rights.
Can you tell me a little bit about your project in Sierra Leone and what was the rule of law challenge that inspired you to create this project?
Well first of all let me tell you who I am. I am Nemata Majeks-Walker, the founder and first President of the 50/50 Group of Sierra Leone. The 50/50 Group is a group that empowers women to take part in politics and public life through training and we also advocate for the legal empowerment of women. Now what inspired me to carry out the project is the fact that whenever rules are passed, whenever laws are passed, they’re not implemented. The laws don’t reach the people for who they are designed. For example, in Sierra Leone we have about 70% illiterate women in the provinces. We and other community based organizations lobbied for the passing of the 3 gender laws. The Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act, the Domestic Violence Act and The Devolution of Property Act. These 3 laws we have passed. [But] we failed the need to simplify the laws so that the people, the women who are not literate, will understand the laws. The thing the law is meant to address affects the women the most. So World Justice gave us a tiny funding to simplify the laws, to simplify the laws in English. We found that simplifying the laws in English didn’t do much because the women cannot speak English so we decided to translate the laws into the 4 major languages in the country. And we did not do written translation, we did oral translation, and put it on CDs and put it through the media, not television, but radio, all the community radio stations and we also organized group listening sessions with these women and their traditional chiefs. What I should point out is that even the chiefs that are supposed to mete out justice for the women didn’t realize that these laws had been passed. So the training wasn’t just for the women, but also for the chiefs as well. And we had a multidisciplinary team who works with the translators to carry it out. It was very useful. In my country, women do not have equal rights with men. It’s very patriarchal. Even though women have played a very great part in bringing peace to Sierra Leone when we had the war, these women were relegated to the back seats when the new government came to power. This is why we are focusing attention on empowering women and the legal empowerment of women was very important for us. It was only when women understood the laws that they were able to use it for their advantage.
How did the WJP help you incubate this project?
I can best tell you by giving you two scenarios. After the group listening sessions and many women heard about the law, they were able to communicate what they learned to other members of their community. In one instance there was a lady named Siri, who was accused by her husband’s family of being a witch. They accused her of killing the husband. And after she and the husband built a house, they had been married for over 18 years, as soon as the husband died, they said she was a witch and she killed her husband. They asked her out of the marital home. They did not give her access to her children. They said when your husband dies, you leave the house, the property belongs to us, which is very unfair because this woman took part in building the house. Luckily for Siri, when she was kicked out, a friend who had taken part in this WJP activity that we had done, told her you have a right. Come to the family support unit. Let me take you there. She actually went with her and helped her and then lawyers took over her case and she was able to get back into her home. In so many cases, these things happen. There was another instance of Ramatu who was forced to marry somebody. This man was a wife beater. Each time the man beat her up, she went to her parents, the parents would say go back to your husband we cannot keep you here. And she went and she endured more beatings. Luckily for her, once when she was crying another lady told her you do not have to take this come with me. There is now a law about domestic violence. When she went to do it, her parents said no no no, you should cover your husband, you should protect your husband. Don’t take him to the police. [But] she went to report the matter and the husband was dealt with and she had peace in her life. As far as I’m concerned the WJP has helped us. Although I must point out that it is only 4 major languages that we have translated the laws into. Now the challenge we have is we have 19 languages in the country. Other linguistic groups are saying to us- why are you cheating, we also need this information because others are telling us about it. There are dwindling financial funds, so we are actively trying to get funding to translate the laws into the other language groups otherwise it’ll just be a waste of time. Because simplifying the laws won’t help and it is very effective when the women hear for themselves what their rights are because for a long time they’ve been denied their rights
What advice would you give to someone who has a rule of law challenge in their own community and they’re searching for a solution and are trying to do something in their community?
Well you cannot do anything without money, so the advice I would give to them is apply, identify what the problem is, formulate a proposal, decide on what activities you want to create to address the problem, and then look for funding. I don’t know whether I would say go to the world justice project, because every time the funds are limited and now there’s a competition. The only way in which you can deal with this project is designing a project; think of ways of solving it. In our case we had a multi disciplinary team that met to formulate the project and I must point out that even the traditional leaders were involved in our meeting. So if you have a rule of law challenge in your country, do something about it. Do not just sit and complain. We did something about it because we knew that if we had not translated those laws, those women would not have known about it and we are still looking for funds to translate it in the other languages so I think that is what I will advise.
To view video of the interview, you can find it here.