Community legal awareness sessions in the Merged Areas by UNDP Amn-o-Insaf Programme

 

Clad in a veil, hiding her identity from people who pass by but confident in her own skin, Gul Bano* walked three miles on a scorching Tuesday afternoon to attend a community legal awareness session in Bado Khel, a village of Tehsil Haleem Zai, District Mohmand of the Merged Areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

For people outside her region, this may not be remarkable but a woman leaving home to learn about legal rights in the Merged Areas of KP is no ordinary feat. Until 2018 and the merger of the (erstwhile) Federally Administered Tribal Areas with the adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, District Mohmand was an agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) which was administered through colonial-era laws.

Everyday lives of women were and still are deeply constrained by traditional tribal values that undermine their rights. For years, women in the Merged Areas have been unaware of their rights and thus fail to recognize violations. Bano* may have grown in these circumstances, but she sees a better future for herself and the many women around her now.

The legal awareness session Bano* and many other women and men in Mohmand District, Khyber, Bajaur and North and South Waziristan are attending are part of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pakistan’s efforts under its Amn-o-Insaf Programme. The Amn-o-Insaf (Peace and Justice) Programme endeavors to strengthen both supply and demand sides of the rule of law and justice system. UNDP has been working in close collaboration with the government, rule of law and justice institutions to improve delivery of services to people, particularly women and other marginalized communities. Strengthening institutional capacity of the criminal justice actors like police, prosecution and courts is a key priority area of the Programme.

Alongside these efforts, UNDP is also creating legal awareness and enabling women like Bano* understand their legal rights and recognize violations. “I’ve been able to understand the problems I’m facing and find a solution for it after attending the legal awareness session hosted by UNDP. I also see so many people around me struggling without knowing that there can be an end to their misery by seeking legal help. I plan to share my learnings with them, so they are able to find solutions and address their challenges too”, shared Bano* after attending the session.

People like her a testament to the fact that, although, it may take years to bring prosperity and development to the region, the resilient people of the Merged Areas are determined to educate themselves and bring a change. They are constantly looking out for innovative ways to learn about their legal rights by attending legal awareness sessions in their communities and sharing those learnings with others.

When restrictions were imposed on larger gatherings due to Covid-19, UNDP tailored smaller sessions, with ten participants at a time, across the Merged Areas, where participants are appraised on the precautions and COVID -19 SOPs particularly on wearing a mask, washing hands and social distancing. The seating arrangement at these legal awareness sessions is planned to maintain standards of social distancing.

These sessions not only make participants learn about their legal rights and laws that protect them but also about COVID-19 SOPs and protection that they take home and share with their families and children.

 

Community Awareness Session in District Khyber

 

Creating Legal Awareness in the Merged Areas

Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the legal awareness sessions arranged by UNDP, are on-going activity that began in December 2019 and continues till the end of 2020. Since late last year, 167 awareness raising sessions have been held enabling over 7000 individuals to learn about legal literacy, basic rights, and the formal justice system in Merged Areas. Over 2000 women from Khyber, Bajaur and Mohmand District have been able to learn about legal rights, human rights violations and how to report them. 

 

Over 2000 women in the Merged Areas have attended UNDP Pakistan’s legal awareness sessions

 

On paper, it may be 7000 individuals, but for communities where they come from, the impact is much larger. In reality, it is 7000 homes, with many individuals, being made aware of their legal rights envisioning a better life for themselves.

UNDP’s legal awareness sessions educate participants about fundamental rights including right to life, property and a fair trial, criminal and civil law, family law including law pertaining to marriages and divorce, custody of children and inheritance.  The awareness session also educates participants on ways to report violations.

These sessions are designed in a participatory way, asking different questions from the community and encouraging them to share their challenges and find legal solutions for them. They are informed about legal assistance options and introduced to pro bono help.

Scaling legal awareness sessions through trainings for Women Development Organizations

Educating individuals and encouraging them to pass on the learnings has been helpful but scaling up these efforts and hosting trainings for Women Development Organizations in the Merged Areas has resulted in a ripple effect.

Since late 2019, seven Women Development Organizations have been trained in different districts of the Merged Areas including Orakzai, Kurram and District Mohmand. These training sessions are spread over two or three days with a varying number of women professionals in attendance. While the trainings are focused on legal literacy in the context of Merged Areas, basic rights and formal justice system in MAs, they also introduce participants to rule of law and its various concepts, role of women development organizations in the project and how they can aid development amid other areas. 

 

Legal trainings for Women Development Organizations

 

Pro bono legal advice through Legal Aid Desks in the Merged Areas

Though creating awareness about legal rights is a great starting point of a larger process, it is not sufficient on its own. UNDP understands that and works on both the demand and supply side of the justice system.

To increase access to justice for women in the Merged Areas, legal aid committees have been established at District Bar associations. Those who need legal assistance are provided free legal aid through the Legal Aid Unit of KP Bar Council where pro bono lawyers offer support and take up their cases.

One can’t help but admire the strength of the women of the Merged Areas. There is something extremely powerful about the woman who, clad in veil and unwilling to reveal her identity, consultants a legal aid unit to discuss her difficulties with a professional in the hopes of a better tomorrow. UNDP.

* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

Author: 

Hafsah Sarfraz

Hafsah is the communications and reporting focal point for UNDP Pakistan’s Strengthening Rule of Law (Amn-o-Insaf) Programme. With over a decade of journalism experience, she has also worked at Cultural Vistas, World Learning, USAID, M&C Saatchi, and Express Tribune, an international partner of the New York Times. She is passionate about storytelling, travel, arts, culture, and learning. 

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