By Alhagie F.s Sora
The Female Lawyers Association of the Gambia (FLAG) has recently ended a two day paralegal training for women Ward councillors in the West Coast Region to serve as community paralegals.
The training, which was supported by the United States Embassy in Banjul, was aimed at empowering the women to take charge of the challenges they are prone to in the community, such as domestic violence among a host of other issues.
Mr. Richard Yonoeka, the Charge D’Affaires at the US Embassy, expressed delight for the women taking up the career as paralegals and community advisers as well as the work FLAG is doing in the Gambia. He assured his embassy’s continued support, adding that empowering ten (10) women in the West Coast Region to take up their own issues is a step in the right direction.
The US Charge D’Affaires said the workshop is being supported by the U.S Embassy Democracy and Human Rights Funds which promotes and protects political and religious freedom, the international human rights of women, persons with disabilities and vulnerable minorities, with the aim of improving the civic and political landscape of human rights in a host country.
Mr. Yonoeka recalled that last year, the total grants awarded under this fund in the Gambia totaled $60,000. For this specific grant, he added, they have awarded $11,000 to FLAG to make an investment in rural women who have limited access to justice and which is sure to pay countless dividends over years to come. He said another importance of this training is that the majority of Gambians live outside the urban area and cannot afford legal services. He said the training of these women as community advisers will increase the knowledge of the rule of law and the judicial process in more remote areas.
The US Charge D’Affaires said the training of this group of people and the University Law Faculty as paralegals will limit the work on FLAG for more women and children who come to the legal Aid clinics to have their needs addressed. He said legal services will include probono representation in court for women and girls who cannot afford it. He added that this will help to facilitate the implementation and enforcement of the Women’s Act of 2010 and Children’s Act of 2005.
He assured their continued partnership with FLAG and all other development stakeholders in the public, private and civil society sectors, and further assured his embassy’s continued support to any activities that are geared towards the promotion of democracy and human rights in the Gambia.
Ajaratou Siffai Hydara, the governor of West coast Region, said this training of community paralegal is very timely and is an important tool in empowering local women to be aware of their legal rights. She said access to justice in rural Gambia continues to be a setback and as such many women are not aware of legal precepts in place to provide redress for their grievances. She said justice is fundamental to the attainment of the rule of law and that the Gambia government has made it a top strategic objective and aim to provide the public with affordable and speedy justice which cannot be reached without legal services.
Governor Hydara noted the complex nature of the law and added that paralegals must be equipped with analytical skills to recognise and evaluate relevant facts and legal concepts and should have the ability to negotiate and communicate with many types of personalities often when they are in distress.
She said the work of these community paralegals will include education and given basic legal advice and alternative dispute resolution skills (ADR). She finally commended the US Embassy and FLAG for giving this very important training to her region.
Ms. Neneh M.C. Cham, the president of FLAG, in her remarks, thanked the governor of the region for hosting the training at her office. She also thanked the women trainees who, she said, are very devoted to national duties by responding to the training despite it being in the rainy season. She also extended a special thanks to the Us Embassy for their continuous support to FLAG and to the promotion and development of democracy and human rights.