In action for the rights of women
On paper at least, women and men have equal rights in most countries. But in reality, it is often very different. In countries such as Kosovo, Albania or Afghanistan, women suffer huge disadvantages and their rights and needs are often violently suppressed.
medica mondiale is fundamentally committed to statutory equality for women and girls. Our projects include provision of female lawyers to assist women and campaign for women’s rights in court and at public authorities. In Afghanistan the lawyers at Medica Afghanistan assist hundreds of women and girls who are sitting in jail for so-called ‘moral crimes’ - which can include being a rape victim. In Kosovo we advise widows who are left with no claim to the inheritance from their deceased husband. In Israel medica mondiale supports a project encouraging Arab-Palestinian women to press charges against perpetrators of sexualised violence. The project also accompanies them to court. These are just a few examples of our work.
Legal assistance for women
In Afghanistan, for example, women are traditionally forbidden a great deal of things. Often they are not even allowed to leave the house without male company, let alone learn a profession. For the country’s numerous widows, this means that they have to choose between extreme poverty or prostitution as a way to earn money for themselves and their children. In Kosovo, men’s possessions are passed on to their brothers when they die – although the law says otherwise. Their wives, daughters and sisters go away empty-handed.
In many countries, women and girls also face an additional disadvantage if they are suspected of having been raped: they then no longer have a chance of living in a relationship of their own choice and are forced into arranged marriages or cast out by their families. Marital abuse and public discrimination are often not considered crimes worth punishing.
If women oppose the arbitrariness and violence of their fathers, brothers and husbands, they often face terrible punishments – frequently even death in the name of family honour. For many women, this means that gender-specific violence experienced in times of war continues into times of peace.
Informing women about their rights
Informing women about their rights in a specific case is part of counselling work. It is important to raise the women’s awareness of the injustice they have suffered: to explain that it is not they who are to blame for the violence they experience – as many a tradition or religious custom leads them to believe – and that rape is a serious violation of human rights. For only if women know their rights can they protect themselves in future; it is only in this way that the legal situation of women can be improved in the long run. Defending themselves, enforcing their rights by legal action and seeing the perpetrators be punished are furthermore important steps to overcome the traumas they suffered.
Trauma training for legal counsellors
Special skills are required when providing legal counselling to women who experienced sexualised violence in war or in crisis zones: successful counselling depends on the lawyer’s ability to gain their client’s trust by putting them at ease and allaying their fears. Otherwise, shame and fear of the family’s reaction – especially in cases of domestic violence – make it difficult to deal publicly with these cases of violence. So local lawyers are trained in dealing with traumatised women and helped to take an initial critical look at the social structures and traditions in their country. They also need to review their personal ideas of justice and injustice before being in a position to support the women effectively. To that end, they receive further training on the topic of sexualised violence against women and human rights violations and also on gender-specific legislation in their country.
Awareness raising for police and legal professionals
Lawyers from medica mondiale and partner organisations are also working towards raising awareness at judicial and police authorities. Violence against women has no legal consequences in many societies: these crimes are not prosecuted by police or law enforcement authorities and police often do not even know that rape or forced marriages with minors are punishable. Sometimes concepts of justice even go as far as those in Afghanistan, for example, where the perpetrator raping a woman is often not considered guilty. Instead, the woman is put into prison.
Many women do not report acts of violence because they are afraid to be humiliated once again when questioned by police or in court. In order to change this, medica mondiale carries out trainings for police staff, judges and public prosecutors on the topic of violence against women and human rights. The courses also teach them about the devastating consequences of traumatisation and gender-specific violence.
An important part of providing legal assistance is the documentation of sexualised violence against women. Case reports, police protocols and witness statements serve as crucial evidence in court.