Building new lives with legal aid support in Gaza

Female lawyer providing consultation at one of the legal aid clinics in Gaza

Mai is a 35-year-old woman living in Al-Mghazi Camp in Gaza. She was first married at the age of 22 but her marriage ended without receiving any of her entitlements.

Highlights

  • 18 legal aid clinics have been established and supported across the Gaza Strip through the Rule of Law Programme
  • Over 10,000 people received legal aid services at the clinics and around 30,000 people receive legal information
  • 74% of people benefiting from the legal aid clinics are women
  • 88% of women represented by UNDP supported legal aid clinics have case results in their favour

“After I got divorced the first time, I thought maybe I could have another chance and a new beginning. Unfortunately, this was not the case” says Mai. “I got married again at the age of 30 and after three months, my husband and I were in disagreement. He asked me to leave my house and go back to live with my family for some time. I went there without even considering that he was planning to divorce me in absentia.”

According to Palestinian law, divorce can be conducted in absentia. Divorce papers are usually sent to the wife, and then she has the right to request her alimony and furniture allowance in addition to a final payment written in the marriage agreement in no more than three months.

For Mai, the situation was different. She received her divorce papers a year after the court decision. “I was shocked when I received the papers. It was written that I was divorced one year ago, when I thought I was still married. At that time, I felt as if I lost all my rights and my life again.”

In an effort to empower local communities and improve access to justice for vulnerable people, UNDP has helped establish the network of legal aid providers in Gaza, bringing together the Palestinian Bar Association, civil society organisations and academic institutions.

The network provides an array of advanced legal services, including representation, litigation, mediation and arbitration, and since April 2011, has been operating 18 clinics across the Gaza Strip. Men and women from different age groups and social status visit the clinics for free consultations and legal representation by qualified lawyers.

One of the clinics established through the programme is located in Nusierat refugee camp. The clinic serves at least 40 women per month and has been successful in most of its cases. One of these women was Mai.

Over 60% of the Gaza population lives below the poverty line, and many can barely make a living, let alone afford to pay legal fees. Mai consulted a women’s centre in her area and they advised her to go to the legal clinic at the Union of Women Programmes Centre at the Nusierat refugee camp.

Mai met with a female lawyer at the legal aid clinic. The lawyer subsequently met with the judge who handled Mai’s divorce and after several discussions and visits; the judge admitted the mistake made in not making sure that Mai received her divorce papers on time.

“When the judge agreed on bringing the case before him, I felt so happy and when I finally received the lawyer’s call to collect my alimony and other entitlements I was even happier. I felt strong, I was always treated as the weakest part of the equation.”

Mai did not give up. She continued her education and recently received her BA in accounting. She is also volunteering at the Union of Women’s Programmes Centre as an administration and finance assistant.

“After what I have gone through, I wish I was a lawyer to help other women in Gaza who are less fortunate and unaware of their rights” says Mai. Although it is always sad to remember that I failed two marriages, but still it feels good to know that I managed to regain my rights with such high level of professionalism and confidentiality.”

By supporting the network of legal aid providers in the Gaza Strip, the programme aims to provide Palestinians with the legal services they need to both access justice and basic social services. While the needs of individual clients differ, the provision of legal aid services aims at breaking the barriers that separate too many Palestinians from attaining their rights and human dignity.

The Strengthening the Rule of Law in the occupied Palestinian territory - Justice and Security for the Palestinian People 2014-2017: UNDP/PAPP and UN Women Joint Programme is funded by the Governments of Sweden, Netherlands and UNDP/BCPR. The USD 29 million programme focuses on strengthening the various judicial entities including the Ministry of Justice, High Judicial Council and the Attorney General’s office while ensuring that Palestinians have access to legal resources in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Through the legal empowerment, the programme is building confidence and awareness so that people have information about their rights and the ability to claim them back.