Alone, Poor and Bewildered
The Women Struggling for Justice in Somaliland’s Courts
8 March 2021
8 March, International Women’s Day, is a reminder of what every society must do, collectively, to reflect on the impediments which hold women back from full enjoyment of the rights and opportunities afforded them in law and policy statements. Wherever in the world they live, the roadblocks women and girls face are the same, to varying degrees — economic and political powerlessness, legal barriers, unequal educational prospects, discrimination and prejudice based on interpretations of cultural or religious beliefs. The cumulative impact destroys, or at best, undermines women’s self-confidence, which in turn makes it that much more difficult for them to challenge what they can only regard as insurmountable obstacles.
In a statement issued today, Horizon Institute details how the experiences of uneducated and poor women in Somaliland who go to court to register a complaint about domestic violence, to seek a divorce, to claim custody of children and ask for alimony involve prolonged, demoralizing and expensive processes.
From its research and legal assistance work over the past seven years, Horizon found women in Somaliland overwhelmingly prefer the courts to the customary system, if only because the courts represent a forum in which they have a voice and can defend themselves. The harsh reality, however, is that speaking up for yourself in a court of law dominated entirely by men, when you are a woman with no resources, no education, no knowledge of how the courts work and no legal assistance, is a daunting task. It is all too easy to feel defeated and to give up, as many women do after a few court appearances.
Changing the experiences of women in the formal justice system for the better is a responsibility incumbent on both the men and women of Somaliland, with constructive contributions from donor agencies, international and local organizations working in the justice sector and on women’s rights. It is unreasonable, and unrealistic, to expect the very women who endure the powerlessness and prejudice highlighted above to become the vehicle through which change must come. Change can, however, come when the focus is placed firmly on the practical measures that can transform the courts into institutions welcoming and supportive of women’s rights to oppose the violence, injustice and discrimination at the heart of many family disputes. Horizon’s statement puts forward a number of feasible measures, including the appointment of female judges, which would boost the morale of women who come to court for family cases.
To read the full statement click here.
Horizon Institute is working to advance the rule of law and human rights. Our reports and discussion papers explore issues identified through our work. They provide information and analysis intended to stimulate debate among the public, government institutions, the media, human rights groups, NGOs, independent bodies and donors and promote government policies based on respect for human rights, the rule of law and the encouragement of self-reliance.
To learn more, visit us at www.thehorizoninstitute.org and follow us on Twitter at @Horizon_SL and on Facebook at @HorizonInstituteSomaliland.
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