Legally Empowered

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There is a quote on the bulletin board in our office which says “In the absence of good structures, even good people behave badly.” This quote rings very true in a lot of the work that we do, but there is another piece to this equation that has also become very clear to me- Good structures are only helpful when people are aware of them and know how to navigate them.
This is exactly the challenge women market trader's face in their lives. Bureaucracy is confusing to most of us, but with low levels of education, no access to information and no one to guide you through the process, its a nightmare. Imagine if you had no idea how to get a piece of ID, why you needed a marriage certificate or what a contract was, and nobody else around you had any clue either. This lack of legal knowledge leaves women vulnerable to everything from fake marriages and abuse to property grabbing and business scams.

Which is why Equality for Growth is launching a legal aid program for market women. The project official launched this fall at a big opening ceremony. Over the next year, 25 women and men who work in and around the markets will attend training sessions to become paralegals. These paralegals will be able to help women with basic legal advice, mediate disputes and guide them through the legal system.
What is incredible is that these women and men are all volunteers. There is no funding to pay paralegals for their work and they offer their services for free. Most of them will be juggling their own business at the same time. For most people who work a full-time job, volunteering one afternoon a week can be a struggle. These people will likely see 3-5 clients a week. Its an impressive commitment.

At the first training session, the paralegals to-be biggest worry was that they wouldn't be able to understand enough of law and legal practice to offer advice. This has rapidly changed. The second training session ended just last week and the groups was confident enough to tell the trainers they wanted the last few hours of the training so they could plan as a group to set up their work in the markets. In the course of a couple months they've gone from hesitant to full-throttle.

Its a neat aspect of the project, that as much as the women will benefit from the legal aid, those trained also really benefit from the sense of confidence and community they get from being part of the paralegal team. I think it will be exciting to see, not just the help the new paralegals will provide but also how this experience will also ripple through their own lives and what else it might empower them to do.


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