With the help of legal clinics in Gaza, women find their way back to life
For so many women in Gaza, divorce can be the end of their life. The stigma of being divorced in a community where women should somehow perform as the perfect wife is a burden that stops many from pursuing an end to violence and unsuccessful marriages that they have to live through.
Aziza who got married twice, and divorced twice as well, says it took her 20 years to understand that violence can never end by patience “I deluded myself by believing my marriage was successful and I accepted all types of violence you can imagine, until I also discovered he is addicted to drugs. I stayed, despite the fact that we had no children. I had to stay because I was already divorced when I was forced to marry before when I was very young.”
Aziza was forced to get married when she was 16 years old. Her first marriage lasted for two years and then she got divorced. Her second marriage lasted for 20 years and at the age of 42 she decided to break the cycle of violence and neglect, especially after her husband married another woman and forced her to live at the same house where she was locked in a room and prohibited of asking for help or calling her family.
“I do not know how I escaped that night. I opened the door and left everything behind. I already had nothing to leave. I only had disappointments and memories I decided to forget once I left that home.” Aziza continued. “I went to my family’s house where I have been living for the past three years. My family tried to push for a divorce in the traditional way but he refused. He just wanted me to suffer until a friend of mine told me about the legal aid clinic at the Aisha Association for Woman and Child Protection.”
Aziza visited the clinic and was introduced to a psychological counsellor who listened to her concerns. “Visiting the legal clinic presented new hope for me. I had this burden for a year and a half and I needed to get it off my chest. No one listened to me before. After the first visit, I got out of the clinic feeling very light, feeling very relieved, I just felt good!” Aziza said.
In an effort to empower local communities and improve access to justice for vulnerable people, UNDP helped establish the network of legal aid providers in Gaza, bringing together the Palestinian Bar Association, civil society organizations and academic institutions.
The network provides an array of advanced legal services, including representation, litigation, mediation and arbitration. Since April 2011, the network has been operating 18 clinics across the Gaza Strip. Men and women from different age groups and social status visit the clinics for consultations and legal representation by qualified lawyers for free.
After 3 months in court, Aziza finally got the divorce and her entitlements to be paid monthly. “When I was informed by the clinic that I got the divorce, I was very happy. I felt that now I am ready to start over and rebuild my life. This is why I pursued my education and took courses in economic development. I am very good in embroidery and tailoring. I bought a machine and now I produce great pieces and sell them either to the local community or to organizations who can sell it for me. I am currently planning to save money to get my own workshop and build my own room at my family’s home to have some privacy.”
By supporting the network of legal aid providers in Gaza, 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.
“My life has changed. I could have been now sitting in a locked room, being beaten up, or maybe even killed. I try to avoid thinking of how it may look like if I stayed and now I only think of what has happened when I left, I found my way back into life.” Aziza concluded.
- The Sawasya - UNDP/UN Women Joint Programme “Strengthening the Rule of Law: Justice and Security for the Palestinian People” (2014-2017), is generously funded by the Government of Netherland, the Swedish International Development Cooperation and the European Union. Through legal empowerment, the programme is building confidence and awareness so that people have information about their rights and the ability to claim them back.
- 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.
- AISHA Association for Woman and Child Protection (AISHA), established in 2009, is an independent Palestinian women organization working to achieve gender integration through economic empowerment and psychosocial support to marginalized groups in the Gaza Strip with focus on Gaza City and the North area.