Evaluation Legal Aid Service: Decidedly side by side with women

Medica Afghanistan successfully supports women affected by violence in enforcing their rights and promotes women’s recognition within society.

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Based on many years of experience, Medica Afghanistan has built up extensive expertise regarding approaches, laws and general conditions which reinforce or prevent violence against women in Afghanistan.

Unequal opportunity and gender-specific violence against women and girls are widespread in Afghanistan. Their causes are deeply rooted in the country’s patriarchal structures and many decades of conflict. While women enjoy equal rights according to the letter of the law, they are frequently oppressed and disadvantaged in real life, including in their dealings with the judicial system, which is extremely difficult for women to access.

Medica Afghanistan works towards changing this situation as part of the organisation’s legal aid programme. Its (female) employees offer legal advice that is sensitive to the stresses and trauma women have experienced. They represent women before court, mediate in family conflict situations and work politically towards greater recognition and wider implementation of women’s rights. The project is aimed at women and girls who are affected by sexualised or domestic violence or have come into conflict with the law. It is supported by medica mondiale and the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung/BMZ).

Greater knowledge, greater justice

The international evaluation expert Charlemagne Sophia Gomez and her Afghan colleague Shaheen Bibi Sultani evaluated the programme between December 2017 and March 2018. Their results confirmed that the support offered by Medica Afghanistan is unique and urgently needed by many survivors of violence. The legal aid programme informed over 2,400 women about their rights and provided them with legal advice regarding available further steps. This allowed them to obtain reasonable outcomes before courts, whether the women were the ones who brought charges or defended themselves against them. Medica Afghanistan’s (female) mediators were also successful in mediating in family disputes, giving women affected by violence access to alternative, culturally appropriate methods of dispute resolution and reconciliation.

As women saw their experiences of injustice validated and engaged with the legal and judicial systems, they gained greater knowledge of women’s rights not only at the individual level, but also at the societal and institutional levels. Medica Afghanistan held information events with key actors, both male and female, further contributing to improving women’s social and legal standing. At least 5,000 women and girls were able to access one or several of Medica Afghanistan’s services over the duration of the project.

Advice counts

Yet there is still a lot to do, the evaluators found. The political climate in the country continues to be volatile, and the conditions within which women exercise their rights continue to be characterised by arbitrariness and patriarchal traditions. The fact that women decide to bring charges for assault, mutilation or rape at all is evidence of considerable courage. This often results in them being excluded from their families, separated from their children or rejected by the courts, even in cases where the legal situation is clear. This puts pressure on women, causing many of them to drop their charges again.

Factors of insecurity such as these must be given greater weight when designing and developing future projects. After all, legal aid alone cannot guarantee justice for women affected by violence. The project’s success can therefore not be measured by the number of ‘not guilty’ verdicts or sentencing rates. Rather, the provision of advice as such counts. The evaluators rated the mere fact that imprisoned women or those affected by violence received trauma-sensitive support and legal advice as major progress. Overall, this initiates a change in attitudes that substantially contributes to improving the legal and social protection of female survivors of violence in Afghanistan.

Going to the root cause of violence

Based on many years of experience, Medica Afghanistan has built up extensive expertise regarding approaches, laws and general conditions which reinforce or prevent violence against women in Afghanistan. The evaluators found that the organisation should leverage this potential even more effectively. While general awareness of the law on the elimination of violence against women (EVAW) was raised throughout the duration of the project, and it was ensured that courts apply this law more frequently, there are still too few court cases that see accused women go free. What are the reasons for this? Where are the gaps in the law that affect this? What useful knowledge could the (female) lawyers gain to achieve greater success? The evaluators recommend that Medica Afghanistan, being a key actor in women’s rights issues, could use the organisation’s expertise and political clout to identify potential stumbling blocks and thus decrease the number of charges overall.

Improving monitoring & evaluation

If high-quality, sustainable support services are to be provided in the long term, various control measures need to intermesh purposefully. Medica Afghanistan often found it difficult to provide these measures, given the high case load and difficult working conditions in the conflict zone. The evaluators recommend that the organisation develop better tools for documenting its own work and verifying the effect its services have on beneficiaries. Also, a sound monitoring system needs to be implemented to allow Medica Afghanistan to identify and respond to risks and challenges in a timely manner. The quality management system drafted by Medica Afghanistan in order to ensure compliance with standards yet to be defined constitutes a major step in this direction.

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