Publications

Publication of a Handbook.

WOMAN’S POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AT THE LOCAL AND NATIONAL LEVELS (Revised Edition)

Content:

Section One addresses issues of gender and political process, which comprises of gender equality in decision making; women and election violence.


Section Two discusses the process of raising funds, from designing a fund-raising plan to writing a budget, to compiling a list of donors.


Section Three looks at the development of an effective communication strategy and specifically addresses the crafting of an aspirant’s message, techniques for overcoming challenges that women faces when speaking in public and for the handing of difficult and embarrassing questions.


Section Four deals specially with speech writing


Section Five examines the development of a relationship with the media, interviewing techniques, getting campaign media coverage and dealing with negative coverage.


Section Six studies campaign planning


Section Seven address the issue of leadership.


Section Eight discusses stress management, identifying the need to reduce stress in the lives of women candidates as they approach the hectic campaign period.


Section Nine looks at qualifications and procedures for contesting in the district level elections as well as the local government system.


Section Ten deals with the relevant provisions of legislation governing the qualification procedures for national elections.

EVALUATION OF CLIENTS ASSESSMENT OF SERVICES

Increasingly, FIDA-Ghana has recognized the importance of improving upon the evaluation of the legal aid program by actively involving clients to assess the impact and performance of the legal aid program on their lives as well as their children. The organization is also able to pick up valuable inputs/information from the clients to inform decision on advocacy, design the right messages for legal rights education through its mobile outreach programs as well as the production of information and educational materials.

Assessing the outputs of the programs has made FIDA aware of the need to strengthen collaboration with existing government agencies in order to make a significant impact on the lives of women and children.

FIDA-Ghana has also recognized the need to engage in court watch to follow up on cases referred to DOVVSU for prosecution.

Clients still feel that they spend too much time at FIDA. This is often due to the fact that some cases take a longer time to mediate on, have a lot of cases and difficult ones with few lawyers available.

Some women still feel that invitees renege on agreements because they do not take FIDA seriously. It has been observed that reasons why some men default in maintenance payments is as a result of economic circumstances where the men may loose their jobs or as a result of low economic status. Clients did admit that despite this issue FIDA’s assistance makes a substantial contribution towards providing an improved lifestyle for them and their dependents. In order to assess the Legal Aid program, FIDA created a survey that it distributed to all clients. The survey contained the following questions:

  1. What is the specific problem you brought to FIDA
  2. Have your expectations been met?
  3. Have there been any changes since the mediation?
  4. Were you satisfied with the mediation?
  5. Do you have any recommendations?

Printed below are four client responses to the survey.

CLIENT 1

Client has three issues with invitee. They were married customarily but now divorced. Invitee has not been paying maintenance for the past two years.

¨      There have been a lot of changes, and her expectations had been met. Before the mediation took place, invitee visited clients home to persuade her to get her to compromise and withdraw the case from FIDA. Client insisted on the case being mediated upon. After mediation client is now making regular maintenance payments.

¨      Client applauded FIDA’s efforts, but added that frequent adjournments do not favor clients who work in the formal sector.

CLIENT 2

Client has two issues with invitee. They are not married. Invitee is married now to another woman, but will not pay maintenance.

¨      Yes my expectations have been met.

¨      Yes there have been changes since mediation. “Invitee now pays makes monthly maintenance payments. He also pays the school fees of the children as ordered by the legal aid officer.

¨      “I was satisfied with the mediation. I initially did not agree on the monthly maintenance payments, as I thought it was insufficient, but upon further explanation that he will pay the school fees separately I became satisfied.

¨      Client commended FIDA’s efforts to help women get free legal assistance, but will like FIDA to do more to ensure that invitees respond promptly to invitations FIDA. “I had to solicit  assistance from the police on two occasions before invitee responded,”

CLIENT 3

Client was served a divorce petition by husband. She needed legal assistance to pursue the divorce process. She was assisted to reply to the petition.

¨      Client says her expectations had been met. The divorce was cancelled by the court. It was realized that they have been married for less than a year and there was no way a divorce would be granted to a marriage which was less than a year.

¨      Client did not go through any mediation process but she received the requisite legal information from the legal aid officer who handled the case.

CLIENT  4

Client was cohabiting with boyfriend. They have stayed together for over five years. Boyfriend physically abuses client. After one of the recent beatings, boyfriend asked client to pack out of the house. Client had two issues with boyfriend.

¨      Client thinks part of her expectations has been met. She has moved back to the house but the problem now is that invitee occasionally verbally abuses her.

¨      There have been a lot of changes. Though client came to complain about the abuse and unlawful eviction, the lawyer dealt with the maintenance of the children as well.

Most clients complained that they waited long hours before they entered a mediation session. FIDA also realized that some clients, after initial reports, do not follow through with mediation. Follow up on such clients have revealed that most of them are prevailed upon to resolve the problem at the family level ie through meetings /discussions. For instance a client whose ex husband refused her access to her children said, “After sending the invitation letter, my ex husband came with his family and our children to see me” It was agreed that the children should stay with me and spend vacation with their father. We also agreed on monthly maintenance payments”.

Jan-Dec 2009 Report

Access to justice is a mechanism for ensuring the realization of constitutionally guaranteed rights for the broader goals of poverty reduction and development. The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy paper (2003) notes that access to justice is one of the fundamental principles upon which good governance rests.

Within government’s development agenda and international agreements some critical features that emerge are government’s inability to consistently put in place adequate measures to insure that women receive and can access justice. Resources are needed, therefore, to pursue activities that will hold government accountable to the commitment to providing access to justice for women. As a result of this project, women in target communities will be able to access Legal Aid Services, an affordable mechanism and process responsive to the legal needs of women

They will also gain access to information to assist them to obtain and secure their rights in situations of violence, as well as uphold their inheritance rights following the death of their husbands.

The UNICEF grant supports FIDA-Ghana to undertake activities that will generate the needed behavior change on the issues of child rights and access to justice for women and their dependents to enable these children grow up in the proper environment that will let them bring out their best to impact society in future

Activities under this grant include:

Provision of legal aid through mediation and alternate dispute resolution.

Increasing awareness of women’s reproductive rights by providing ten minute

education sessions thrice weekly on an annual basis to clients who visit the legal aid

centre.

The project is expected to raise community consciousness regarding the need to protect and promote children’s rights. Some indicators of the achievement of these intentions would be:

  • 4000 women will be able to access justice to address their legal challenges annually.
  • Annually, 4000 women will be empowered to assert their rights concerning their legal and reproductive rights.

OVERALL CASE RESULTS

During the period under review, the legal aid centre in Accra received one thousand three hundred and seventeen (1317) cases. Marital cases formed the highest number of cases received, followed closely by maintenance cases, Estate cases, referrals and legal advice.

Out of the 1317 cases recorded at the centre (refer to table 1.1) from January to December, marital cases formed 37.7%, maintenance cases comprised 25.5% estates, 15.2% , legal advice 8.1% , referrals 10.7% and compensation 2.5%. FIDA referred cases to the appropriate organizations like DOVVSU, CHRAJ, Labour commission and Legal aid.

Over Ninety percent (90.1%) of cases documented at the centre were reported by female clients, most between the ages of 20-40, whilst male clients represented 9.4% of FIDA’s clients. Over thirty one percent (31.03%) of female clients reported that they were in abusive relationships.

The marital category, which received the largest number of cases, covers disputes between couples, who are divorced, separated or still married. The underlying reasons causing marital conflicts has been as a result of various abuses suffered by women in their marriages. Others were as a consequence of economic hardships due to joblessness of the male spouse, incompatibility, infidelity, refusal of male spouses to contribute to maintenance of the home, and negative influence from friends and religious leaders.  Generally, women who are divorced apply to the Centre for assistance to claim compensation from their spouses.  In many cases, the breakdown of the marriage results in a total breakdown in communication between the spouses, which adversely affects the maintenance of the children in the marriage.

Indeed, during marital conflicts, most mothers and children are ejected from their homes. Women who report cases of marital conflicts always end up bringing up issues of how children will be maintained in schools and how to pay for basic needs of shelter, and medical bills. Fathers continue to resent payment of maintenance fees particularly where there is separation or divorce and children are living with their mothers, as they feel their ex wives are benefiting from the maintenance payments. This often results in demands for custody of the children to avoid maintenance payments.

Seventy to eighty percent (70-80%) of the child maintenance claims reported to the FIDA-Ghana Legal Aid Centres involve non-marital relationships.  In many of such cases, women tend to maintain custody of the children born out of such casual or informal unions, and have great difficulty getting the male partner to contribute towards maintenance. Virtually 100% of child maintenance clients tend to be women.  These results reinforce the general perception that even though the responsibility of child maintenance is placed by law on both parents, in practice, Ghanaian women tend to bear an undue burden of this obligation. Generally, difficult maintenance cases that are not settled at FIDA are referred to the Family Tribunal.

In cases of compensation, female partners in consensual unions are routinely discriminated against, seeing as the law at the customary and statutory levels favors wives, and not partners. Therefore, upon dissolution of such relationships, women and their children are ejected from the marital home and are denied access to property jointly acquired.

Although the PNDC law III was introduced in 1985, customary successors are still ignorant of this law and therefore, are unable to dispose of properties through the application of this law. This gives rise to disputes, particularly for the spouse and dependents. Through FIDA’s intervention, these disputes are settled. The increasing trend of divorce cases, separation and consensual unions continues to affect maintenance payments for children and the division of matrimonial property.

A proposed Marriage and Divorce Bill that seeks to consolidate existing scattered laws recognises consensual unions. But this is a small provision which requires broader national debate and analysis which eventually can provide factors necessary for recognition by judicial actors who adjudicate cases.

Practically, women who are faced with the harsh reality of losing contributions made to a relationship when being asked to quit come under a ‘breach of promise to marry’ action in court. If they are lucky enough to prevail under this action, the court awards them some minimal compensation. For those whose male partners die, there is absolutely no protection for them under the law because they are not spouses. Research findings by Women in Law and Development (Wildaf 2006) from the Western Region shows that lawyers are reluctant to pursue this line of action [NA1] because of the fact that it is difficult to argue for substantial contribution for these women and when such cases go to court, the process is fraught with delays.

Cases involving inheritance disputes also constitute a significant category of cases that the Legal Aid Centre deals with.  Many of the estate cases presented to the Centre involve situations where a husband or father had died intestate and the relatives of the man were seeking to deprive the wife and/or children from benefiting from the estate as provided for in the Intestate Succession Law, 1985 (P.N.D.C. Law 111).  In some cases, widows and children who applied to the Centre had been forcibly ejected from the matrimonial home and the contents of the house taken over by the deceased person’s relatives. Some of the cases involved polygamous marriages. Experience with such cases shows that often the existence of multiple wives and different sets of children, tends to generate extensive problems after the death of the man over the devolution of property and maintenance of children.

FIDA referred a defilement case to DOVVSU. The individual involved in the case was a SHS pupil whose friend reported her case to FIDA. FIDA followed up on the case and realized that after DOVVSU had arrested and arraigned the perpetrator before court, the friend called back to report that the girl’s parents had refused to pursue the case based on religious grounds and went ahead to settle the case out of court. All attempts by FIDA to persuade and convince the parents that this was a criminal case and had to be pursued in the law courts were futile, as the parents were adamant that they would not pursue the case.

Table 1.1

TOTAL NO. OF CASES FROM JAN- DEC-1317

MONTHS MAINTENANCE/CUSTODY/

PATERNITY

MARITAL COMPENSA-TION ESTATES/PROPERTY LEGAL ADVICE REFERRALS TOTAL
JANUARY 35 20 6 16 6 9 92
FEBRUARY 33 45 1 16 6 27 128
MARCH 37 50 2 15 8 11 123
APRIL 39 28 6 13 9 10 105
MAY 21 34 3 12 5 11 86
JUNE 20 66 7 17 7 14 131
JULY 34 37 1 19 10 10 111
AUGUST 22 52 2 16 8 13 113
SEPTEMBER 29 54 4 27 11 8 133
OCTOBER 29 37 2 20 14 15 117
NOVEMBER 26 42 - 14 14 8 104
DECEMBER 12 32 - 16 9 5 74
TOTAL 337 497 34 201 107 141 1317

EMERGING ISSUES

Some men who are married under the Marriage Ordinance have children outside the monogamous union. Such a situation raises problems concerning child maintenance.  Children in such situations are often neglected, because the fathers cannot afford to maintain them. The practice of multiple fathering, especially by persons within the low-income earning group accounts to a large extent, for the high incidence of default in complying with settlements arrived at by FIDA-Ghana in such cases as well as maintenance orders issued by the courts.

From January to June, FIDA witnessed increasing reports from women in ordinance marriages who reported abandonment and neglect of their families by male spouses who traveled abroad to seek greener pastures.

Paternity disputes and the problem of refusal to name children also emerged strongly during this period. These problems arise within the context of informal or casual unions, where the male partner feels no commitment to the women and by extension to the child or children born out of such associations. Generally, fathers who deny paternity automatically refuse to name the children and consequently refuse to maintain them.  This often requires court orders to determine fatherhood in order to ensure that the children are maintained.

There have also been increasing requests from female spouses for divorce, due to varying reasons. This is a disturbing trend since women are denied any interest in property jointly acquired during the marriage. In order to obtain their share of property, divorcing women must access the courts. Since FIDA-Ghana is now able to assist such women, there has been an increase in the number of divorce cases pending at the courts.

Additionally, women who have custody of their children often engage in a constant battle to get the man to adequately contribute to the children’s maintenance. This problem occurs in a high percentage of cases in which the woman initiated the divorce proceedings. Often, the man is reluctant to give the woman money, alleging that she may not use it for the maintenance of the child. Such arguments affect the children’s maintenance, especially where the woman is responsible for providing clothing and food for the children or contributes towards the payment of the child’s school fees.

From July to September, FIDA experienced a surge of domestic violence cases. The centre received two particularly disturbing cases involving spouses using acid to burn their partners.

FIDA also noticed a growing number of cases from women who reported that they were unfairly terminated from their appointments. FIDA is concerned about such cases, seeing as they have implications for the survival and development of their children. This is especially true in cases where the women do not have supportive male partners or spouses.

REFERRALS

FIDA-Ghana referred one hundred and twenty four (124) cases representing 9.4% of FIDA’s caseload to organizations like DOVVSU, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Legal Aid and the Labour Commission. FIDA referred one sexual violence case to DOVVSU and all cases involving unfair dismissals to the Labour Commission and CHRAJ. These organizations also referred cases amounting to 10.8% to FIDA.

One domestic violence case that FIDA referred to DOVVSU concerned a lady who reported that her husband had poured acid on her face and scarred her face in the process. The lady has four children with her spouse, and anytime there is a misunderstanding, she is asked to leave her marital home. On the day she suffered the acid burns, there had been a misunderstanding, and as she slept at dawn her husband inflicted the acid burns on her face. She was referred to DOVVSU since acid pouring is a criminal offence. The hospital authorities conducted tests to ascertain if the substance poured on her face was acid, the tests proved inconclusive and the man has since been arrested and is in the process of being arraigned before court.

COURT CASES:

FIDA sent eighteen (18) cases to the courts in 2009. Two cases were litigated, whereas the remaining are currently pending before the courts. FIDA did enjoy success, as a client received compensation from her divorced husband.

The majority of cases sent to court in 2009 went to the Family and Juvenile courts to address issues concerning maintenance, custody, payment of school and medical bills, and accommodation. However, FIDA also sent several estate and divorce cases to court.

Two HIV/positive women are in the process of being assisted to secure their properties in order to secure their economic rights. One in Kumasi in the Ashanti region, and the other women in Accra, are currently pending before the courts. FIDA is better equipped to assist women, particularly HIV positive women, to take up cases in court, thanks to the support of OSIWA.

SIGNIFICANT CHANGE STORIES:

Generally speaking, FIDA’s use of mediation has resulted in evident behavioral change in invitees towards the maintenance of their children. We measured this progress by the frequency at which most fathers pay their maintenance allowances at the Centre in order to be collected by our Clients.

  • In one ongoing case, the client was forced to leave her marital home when her husband discovered she was HIV-positive.  Because the husband refused to honor the invitation to FIDA to participate in mediation, the case was sent to court.  FIDA is providing the client with legal representation and the case is currently pending.
  • FIDA successfully helped one client negotiate fair compensation for four years of live-in child-care
  • Another case referred to DOVVSU concerned the custody of children of a woman   whose spouse lived abroad. As a result of marital conflicts, the estranged husband who returned home for holidays picked up their children from his mother-in-law with the excuse that he wanted the children to come and spend some holidays with him. He left the children in the care of a housemaid he wanted to marry, and left instructions that his estranged wife should not be allowed to have access to the children. The case came to FIDA’s attention and was referred to DOVVSU. Our client now has access to her children.
  • A widow and her children came to report that their deceased father had not been buried because the family members insist that the children should submit all documents on their father’s properties before funeral arrangements are made.
  • All efforts to get the family members to meet at FIDA to mediate on the case proved unsuccessful. Finally FIDA sought police assistance to enable the children and the widow bury their father and husband. FIDA has also assisted them to apply for Letters of Administration to enable them dispose of their father’s property
  • The first wife and dependents of a deceased man were cheated of their share of the man’s properties by the second wife, who had taken over all the properties. The first wife and her children brought the matter to FIDA and after mediation the children and wife now have received their share of the deceased husband’s and father’s property.
  • A particularly interesting case came from a client who has a child with a diplomat who works with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The man told our client that he would not take care of their child unless he had custody. However, our client refused to give up custody of her child, because when the child was in her father’s custody, she was taken to a “prayer camp” and chained for allegedly being a witch.  The diplomat has refused to respond to FIDA’s invitation and FIDA sent a petition letter to the Commissioner of the UNHCR two weeks ago. We are yet to receive a response. FIDA intends to follow up on this case to ensure that the child is maintained by her Father.
  • In a custody case, a Client reported that her ex-husband had taken her children away from her and sent them to his sister who prevented our client from seeing her own children. Consequently, our client lost custody of and visitation rights to her children. She reported the matter to FIDA. Mediation processes proved futile when our Client’s ex-husband refused to grant her visitation rights. The matter was therefore sent to the Family Tribunal where she was granted visitation rights.
  • A lady who was renting our Client’s salon quit paying rent to our client when our client’s husband died. Upon inviting the woman to FIDA, she paid some few months arrears and quit again with the excuse that business was not thriving. For some unknown reason, the lady later summoned our Client to Court. FIDA directed assisted our Client to respond to the summons and proceed to the Court. Our Client won the case and the lady was asked to pay for damages and the rest of the rent she owed.
  • In an Estate Case, our Client who was at loggerheads with her deceased husband’s relatives because they refused to recognize and treat her as a spouse came to FIDA for help. The relatives of the deceased refused to give our Client (who had a daughter with the deceased) her share of the properties. Both parties were invited to FIDA and given a brief lecture on the PNDC Law 111. They were also advised on how to go about the application of Letters of Administration. The relatives of the deceased also agreed to contribute and apply for the Letter of Administration.
  • The client and her husband had been living in the man’s family house. As a result, they experienced lots of problems between themselves and also with the man’s relatives. The arguments and quarrels became so unbearable that our Client later moved from the family house to live in a kiosk for some few months. After mediation, the man moved into a new house with his wife and they are now living together happily as husband and wife. Their family has been reunited.

IMPACT

The Legal aid that FIDA provides to women and children helps to improve the lives of individuals in that vulnerable section of society. During the year under review, FIDA-Ghana identified thirty cases that were initially reported but were not pursed by the complainants. When FIDA followed up with those clients, they indicated that as soon as invitees were served with letters from FIDA, particularly on maintenance issues, the male partners decided on their own accord to begin maintenance payments for their children. It has also been observed that maintenance payments for children have also improved, this we measured by the frequency at which some make their payments at the Legal aid centers. This can be attributed to the fact that FIDA now has a lawyer who sends defaulters to courts.

FIDA’s partnership with Women Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE) ensures that women receive counseling which indirectly benefits their children. The organization has been able to document certain trends, notably; that taking cases to courts sends strong signals that women’s rights cannot be abused with impunity.

Most importantly legal aid cannot be provided without the active support of other law and public enforcement agencies. Good relationships with them ensures that when cases are referred by FIDA to them or from them to FIDA, such issues receives prompt response and clients are not taken through secondary trauma.
 
COUNSELLING 

FIDA provided two hundred and six (206) clients with counseling in 2009. Women comprised the majority of FIDA’s counseling clients, and sought counseling for a range of subjects such as  relationship difficulties, psychological problems, compensation, and issues concerning threats to their lives. Men, who only constituted seven percent of FIDA’s counseling clients, received advice concerning marital and maintenance issues. However, youths also benefitted from FIDA’s counseling services. Two adolescent girls and one teenage boy who were having relationship problems with their fathers who had been absent from their lives benefited from the counseling services offered by WISE. FIDA also conducted group counseling sessions. Eight women, benefited from group counseling sessions. Such sessions provides a platform for survivors to share experiences in small groups and support each other in the healing process.

EVALUATION OF CLIENTS ASSESSMENT OF SERVICES

Increasingly, FIDA-Ghana has recognized the importance of improving upon the evaluation of the legal aid program by actively involving clients to assess the impact and performance of the legal aid program on their lives as well as their children. The organization is also able to pick up valuable inputs/information from the clients to inform decision on advocacy, design the right messages for legal rights education through its mobile outreach programs as well as the production of information and educational materials.

Assessing the outputs of the programs has made FIDA aware of the need to strengthen collaboration with existing government agencies in order to make a significant impact on the lives of women and children.

FIDA-Ghana has also recognized the need to engage in court watch to follow up on cases referred to DOVVSU for prosecution.

Clients still feel that they spend too much time at FIDA. This is often due to the fact that some cases take a longer time to mediate on, have a lot of cases and difficult ones with few lawyers available.

Some women still feel that invitees renege on agreements because they do not take FIDA seriously. It has been observed that reasons why some men default in maintenance payments is as a result of economic circumstances where the men may loose their jobs or as a result of low economic status. Clients did admit that despite this issue FIDA’s assistance makes a substantial contribution towards providing an improved lifestyle for them and their dependents. In order to assess the Legal Aid program, FIDA created a survey that it distributed to all clients. The survey contained the following questions:

  1. What is the specific problem you brought to FIDA
  2. Have your expectations been met?
  3. Have there been any changes since the mediation?
  4. Were you satisfied with the mediation?
  5. Do you have any recommendations?

Printed below are four client responses to the survey.

CLIENT 1

Client has three issues with invitee. They were married customarily but now divorced. Invitee has not been paying maintenance for the past two years.

¨      There have been a lot of changes, and her expectations had been met. Before the mediation took place, invitee visited clients home to persuade her to get her to compromise and withdraw the case from FIDA. Client insisted on the case being mediated upon. After mediation client is now making regular maintenance payments.

¨      Client applauded FIDA’s efforts, but added that frequent adjournments do not favor clients who work in the formal sector.

CLIENT 2

Client has two issues with invitee. They are not married. Invitee is married now to another woman, but will not pay maintenance.

¨      Yes my expectations have been met.

¨      Yes there have been changes since mediation. “Invitee now pays makes monthly maintenance payments. He also pays the school fees of the children as ordered by the legal aid officer.

¨      “I was satisfied with the mediation. I initially did not agree on the monthly maintenance payments, as I thought it was insufficient, but upon further explanation that he will pay the school fees separately I became satisfied.

¨      Client commended FIDA’s efforts to help women get free legal assistance, but will like FIDA to do more to ensure that invitees respond promptly to invitations FIDA. “I had to solicit  assistance from the police on two occasions before invitee responded,”

CLIENT 3

Client was served a divorce petition by husband. She needed legal assistance to pursue the divorce process. She was assisted to reply to the petition.

¨      Client says her expectations had been met. The divorce was cancelled by the court. It was realized that they have been married for less than a year and there was no way a divorce would be granted to a marriage which was less than a year.

¨      Client did not go through any mediation process but she received the requisite legal information from the legal aid officer who handled the case.

CLIENT  4

Client was cohabiting with boyfriend. They have stayed together for over five years. Boyfriend physically abuses client. After one of the recent beatings, boyfriend asked client to pack out of the house. Client had two issues with boyfriend.

¨      Client thinks part of her expectations has been met. She has moved back to the house but the problem now is that invitee occasionally verbally abuses her.

¨      There have been a lot of changes. Though client came to complain about the abuse and unlawful eviction, the lawyer dealt with the maintenance of the children as well.

Most clients complained that they waited long hours before they entered a mediation session. FIDA also realized that some clients, after initial reports, do not follow through with mediation. Follow up on such clients have revealed that most of them are prevailed upon to resolve the problem at the family level ie through meetings /discussions. For instance a client whose ex husband refused her access to her children said, “After sending the invitation letter, my ex husband came with his family and our children to see me” It was agreed that the children should stay with me and spend vacation with their father. We also agreed on monthly maintenance payments”.

LESSONS LEARNED

In 2009, FIDA learned the following lessons:

  • Good relations with the police can also help in facilitating the arrest of perpetrators of rights abusers and also ensures prompt response from law enforcement agencies concerning issues of domestic violence.
  • It has also been realized that even those who are unable to read or write can be trained to facilitate the promotion and protection of women rights if given the needed training and support in their local language.

CHALLENGES

In 2009, FIDA faced the following challenges:

  • Delayed prosecution  of sexual abuse cases.
  • There are still reports that criminal cases such as rape and defilement are allowed to be settled at home by Law enforcement agencies. This is a serious challenge to efforts at providing legal assistance to women and children. There is a need for increased sensitization for law enforcement agencies.
  • Refusal of parents to pursue criminal cases in courts. FIDA recognises that continuous advocacy is needed to encourage parents or family members to report criminal cases to law enforcement agencies for redress
  • The practice whereby estranged fathers travel abroad for economic reasons continues to be a major challenge to maintenance of children. FIDA-Ghana in addressing this situation has resorted to writing letters to fathers, pointing out their responsibilities. This is still a difficult issue as response is poor and maintenance payments are irregular or is not paid.
  • Frequent adjournment of cases results in unnecessary delay of cases at the Courts.
  • Increasingly, FIDA-Ghana has recognized the importance of improving upon the evaluation of the legal aid program by actively involving clients to assess the impact and performance of the legal aid program on their lives as well as their children. The organization is also able to pick up valuable inputs/information from the clients to inform decision on advocacy, design the right messages for legal rights education through its mobile outreach programs as well as the production of information and educational materials.
  • Assessing the outputs of the programs has made FIDA aware of the need to strengthen collaboration with existing government agencies in order to make a significant impact on the lives of women and children.
  • FIDA-Ghana has also recognized the need to engage in court watch to follow up on cases referred to DOVVSU for prosecution.
  • Female Clients, often bring cases so late that sometimes little can be done except minimize the damage. This means a lot of public education must be conducted either through media programs or mobile outreach programs to encourage women to break out of the culture of suffering.

OTHER ACTIVITIES

PARALEGAL TRAINING FOR THIRTY COMMUNITY MEMBERS IN TESHIE AND NUNGUA

FIDA trained thirty paralegals (seventeen women and fifteen women) to become knowledgeable in the basic laws promoting and protecting women’s rights and have provided basic legal assistance and support to thirty-two (32) women in the Teshie and Nungua communities in the Greater Accra region,

Evaluations of the paralegal training programme indicated that participants were thrilled with the amount of knowledge they had gained. They said the course content was profound, the topics relevant, and enlightening and the facilitators made the issues clear to them. The information received will facilitate their work as community paralegals and gain cooperation from the people when they realize that the issues are justified by legislation and not a personal position of the paralegal.

Additionally, apart from learning more about FIDA as a partner organization, they also became conscious of an urgent need to assist women to access justice due to numerous acts of violence that women had to suffer. They noticed that behavioral change could occur through sensitization and public awareness, where communities should be educated to prevent families from covering up of cases of abuse, particularly sexual abuses such as rape and defilement.

An issue that came under scrutiny concerned women’s right to own property regardless of their HIV status. Case studies were presented on the hardships and poverty that women are made to suffer in cases where jointly acquired lands and properties are seized by relatives and the consequences to children’s livelihood, education and health. Participants concluded that consistent engagement with men, as well as increased public education through radio programmes, should be conducted to sensitize the communities on the significance of a woman’s right to own property to their families and their communities.

Beneficiaries expressed the view that Men and Women should be made partners in information sharing, developing strategies and actions and negotiating change. Strategic interventions should also target men at the community level to sensitize them on gender issues.

There was a general consensus that gender based violence is unacceptable and therefore campaigns against domestic violence should actively involve men who are often the perpetrators to raise their consciousness. The position taken by participants on negative cultural practices prescribed a review of such practices and the need to undertake public education in the rural communities, where such practices are widespread.

The perception that FIDA supports women whether they are right or wrong was addressed in all the meetings. Beneficiaries and participants understood that the organization strives toward equality for women as well as men but recognizes that certain traditional practices that discriminate against women must be addressed.  This approach has enabled FIDA’s efforts to resonate with men as well as women in the target communities.

The trained paralegals have drawn up action plans to visit various women groups, engage parent teacher associations, women and men groups on the issue of promoting and protecting women’s rights.

There is now a growing awareness that women’s rights are issues of priority, and women are being reported to encourage women to seek legal intervention for abuses of their rights.

Impact of paralegal training on the community and organization-

With the availability of skilled and knowledgeable paralegals in place in target communities, women have been provided with support to seek legal assistance to secure their property & inheritance rights, maintenance of their children through mediation and arbitration as well as resolving marital conflicts in the community.

Out of thirty two (32) cases that have been reported to the police, ten (10) have involved child maintenance, followed by marital cases of (8) eight, five (5) cases of estate and domestic violence cases and four (4) cases on inheritance issues.

Of utmost significance to the paralegals was their ability to be able to explain the position of the law to community members when confronted with rights violations.

IMPROVING WOMEN’S ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN THE NORTHERN AND UPPER EAST REGION

FIDA-Ghana, with funding from CORDAID, set up a programme to improve women’s access to justice in the Northern and Upper East Regions of Ghana. The programme is implemented in eight (8) communities in four (4) districts in the Northern region and five (5) communities in three (3) districts in the Upper East Region. The innovation in the programme is the use of community members and networks to promote and monitor women’s access to justice; i.e. the Community Aid Groups (CAG’s) and the Sister Watch Group (SWG’s). With the exception of Karaga, Saakuba, Yong and Gbelo/Kpalsi in the northern region and Zuarungu in the Upper East region which have only SWGs, all other communities have both SWGs and CAGs.

Significant achievements in the Northern and Upper East region involves the growing emergence of the Community Aid Groups (CAGS otherwise known as paralegals) and Sister Watch Groups(SWG’s) as a strong social movement at the grassroots. There is growing evidence that this is happening as the CAG’s and SWG’s identify and tackle problems such as school drop outs among girls.

For instance the SWG in Labotari in the Karaga District were able to save a girl from being withdrawn from school at the senior secondary level. The girl attended school at Nalerigu Senior Secondary but her father withdrew her from school claiming that his wife i.e. the girl’s mother was pompous because every body in the village praised her daughter for her intelligent capabilities in school. The woman was also sent back to her parents’ home as a form of punishment for her so called arrogance. Nobody in the village could convince the man to rescind his decision, not even the Chief, but the Sister Watch Group members were able to convince the man by providing him with information on the need to educate children especially the girl child. The father’s attitude changed as a result of the information he received and the girl was allowed to return to school while her parents have reconciled.

The formation of the SWGs and CAGs has affirmed the commitment of FIDA to make the programme community-based.  This has helped in building a system that will be useful in creating an autonomous community centred process in the end.

FIDa was successful in securing funding for another three years, and in this phase activities will target young men as forces of change. Some key outcomes identified is to secure supportive attitude of men and young boys in the reduction of domestic violence.

Regular engagement with Chiefs and youth groups is expected to deepen the relationship between the CAGs, sister watch groups and the Chiefs, in order to increase their involvement in arbitration and mediation of cases in the traditional courts. We have begun to see some Chiefs making public statements in support of women and children and it is expected that more of such statements will be made to secure the commitment of the traditional leaders in promoting women’s rights.

MOBILE OUTREACH IN THE EASTERN REGION- ASESEWA& AGORMANYA

FIDA’S  task of creating awareness, and providing legal services relating to ‘family laws’ in Ghana is essential as a result of emerging issues concerning the welfare and development of children that arises from the Legal aid clinics. The implications of consensual unions and its effect on children are always highlighted at such forums for women to learn how this greatly disadvantages them in terms of property rights. Mobile outreach programs therefore provide a platform to make communities and women in particular aware of the existence of human rights laws in Ghana, its contents and implications. This is done through various presentations in the local dialects in the area of child rights, family law and domestic violence.

During this quarter two mobile outreach clinics were held in Assesswa and Agormanya in the Eastern Region. During these outreach programs community members get to know that once they are legally married, family members cannot grab property acquired jointly with their husbands, and will be able to secure the future of their children. The community is also made aware that registration of customary marriages is prudent to prevent any doubtful arguments about their legal status as wives.

The presentations are highly interactive and issues to do with cohabitation, marriage and children’s right to property raises a lot of questions from the beneficiaries.

At the end of the presentations a summary of some questions asked are detailed below.

  1. What can you do if the man responsible for your pregnancy denies paternity?
  2. Can the father of child demand custody of a three year old child on the grounds that the woman is adulterous?
  3. What steps can a child who is above eighteen years take if no provision is made for that child in the Will of his parents?
  4. Can a surviving spouse and children be ejected from the matrimonial home before the distribution of the property?
  5. Will children born out of wedlock benefit from their deceased Parents estate?”
  6. If a person dies without making a Will and there is problem as to how the property needs to be distributed, can it be brought to FIDA for settlement?

Feedback from beneficiaries indicates that the program is beneficial because they acquire knowledge and information on laws that protect the rights of children, women and men. Some views expressed at the outreach programs are summarized below

Summary of participants views

Participants say they now understand that customary marriage is just like the ordinance marriage and that they can obtain certificate after registration. They also now know that it is important to make a Will in order to avoid disinheriting children and spouses.

A participant stated that “She is now aware that there is nothing like children born out of wedlock “Mpena ba”(meaning a concubine’s child) and that the law recognizes all such children.


ORGANISATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS 

Leadership

FIDA inaugurated a new board in June, as the old board’s term expired. This new team is expected to bring new perspectives and broader management knowledge to grow the organization.

The Executive Director of FIDA-Ghana completed a master’s degree, at Georgetown University in the US on Gender and Development and is expected back at work in October 2009. Whilst she was away, the Officer in charge of the Legal Aid program acted in her absence.

Staff Issues

Now that administering performance appraisals is standard practice in FIDA’s offices, FIDA’s next move is to establish an environment where every year, two staff members will be assisted to improve upon their skills and develop competencies to enable staff progress towards achieving their personal career plans as well as strengthen their capacity to achieve the strategic objectives of the organization.

During 2009, FIDA supported an Accra staff member to undertake a grant proposal writing course, while a Kumasi staff member pursued a sandwich Development Course at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) as a part of FIDA’s education initiative.  FIDA’s accounts and programs staff also strengthened its expertise through technical assistance from WOMANKIND. The WOMANKIND training session provided know-how and training regarding fund raising and communication strategies as well as participatory learning techniques to sustain future work.

International Conference

The UN invited FIDA-Ghana to present a paper, “Lessons from Africa” on community responses to reducing violence against women and the incidence of HIV and AIDS, at the 53rd UN conference on the Status of Women held in March 2009 in New York. The conference provided FIDA with an international platform to also share its research findings on the Solutions to legal challenges facing Women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

COOPERATION AND NETWORKING

As a member of the Gender Violence Survivors Network, FIDA-Ghana constantly strives to collaborate with other member organizations of the GVSN. FIDA already enjoys a partnership with the Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE). Because of this collaboration, FIDA provided WISE with an office on the FIDA-Ghana premises. Consequently, counselors from WISE offer counseling services to abuse victims at FIDA’s Legal Aid Centre.

FIDA also has strategic partnerships with thirteen Community based organizations in the Northern and Upper east regions. These partnerships have effectively contributed to FIDA’s efforts to reach a wider audience of women and children in order to provide legal services.

FIDA is still continuing its collaboration with the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU), in Tamale and Bolgatanga. This partnership ensures that women in those two areas will be able to access justice during infractions on their rights. This collaboration has resulted in timely responses to cases referred to FIDA and DOVVSU, and has helped alleviate the frustrations that clients often experience in their quest to access justice. For example, a widow was arrested by the police because her neighbor falsely accused her of assault. When the matter was reported to FIDA, FIDA followed up on the case. As a result of the cooperation between FIDA and DOVVSU, the case was withdrawn from the District police to DOVVSU where police had been trained to handle domestic issues instead of the Police Station.[NA2]

In April, the Ark Foundation invited FIDA-Ghana was to participate in a roundtable discussion on strategies to ensure financial sustainability for women’s rights organizations. It also offered a platform to discuss and explore ways by which long term funding can be raised to grow and sustain women rights organizations.

Examples of Recommendations

  • Women rights organizations should rebrand and market their services and products to attract funds from corporate institutions.
  • Establish a secretariat with fundraising, consultancy and advocacy units to complement the services of Women rights organizations.
  • Convince women’s rights organizations to form partnerships and work together to acquire one building. Housing all women’s rights organizations in one building will help resolve problems with rent issues and will also deliver women’s rights services in one stop. Further discussions were scheduled to occur in August 2009.

CONCLUSION

Mobilizing women to claim and defend their rights is essential in order to advocate for reforming the implementation of human rights and national legal instruments. Such a project requires building women’s capacity in terms of literacy, legal knowledge and political participation.

These activities, when carried out, will cause community members to shift their attitude and behavior towards women’s rights. The Legal aid program equips women with critical knowledge, access to services, and avenues to advance the interests of their children. They are able to obtain justice when their legal rights and that of their children are violated. Apart from assisting children secure maintenance; we have discovered that female beneficiaries of legal aid gain confidence when before, they could not speak for themselves.

Already, Ghanaian women are becoming outspoken, confident and vigilant, which thereby serves as a disincentive to abuse. This increase in confidence results when women see their capacity to effect change in their lives and their children’s lives. This has also dispelled fears about court environment always being intimidating, as many more women are now willing to pursue their cases in court. The availability of a lawyer to provide court representation is also a contributory factor. Accordingly, FIDA-Ghana needs to constantly review the Legal aid program to make it more relevant to the needs of women and children.

Furthermore, it is commonly noted that there is reluctance, particularly among the poor, to become entangled with the courts and/or its associate elements. This is sometimes attributed to the strong social stigma attached to any encounter with the law, no matter how innocent the one accessing it may be.

Legal aid is therefore absolutely essential to ensure that women and children’s rights are upheld and justice is reached where it’s needed, especially in the case of women who are already marginalized by the system. The unavailability of legal services for women puts them and their children at risk since they are systematically more vulnerable. It’s important to strive to create a system that looks out for the welfare of our women and children, as studies have shown the correlation in the rise of family violence and a downturn in the economy. Current economic challenges could result in loss of earnings for households. By extension, one should expect that legal aid services will be needed now more than ever.

The organization also intends to mobilize funds to undertake an evaluation of its Legal aid programs at all its five centers in Accra, Kumasi, Koforidua, Tamale and Bolgatanga. This is intended to record milestones, identify gaps, the limitation of FIDA’ s services over the past four –five years and how effective its services has been to children, young and older women as well as men.

If FIDA is successful in securing funding to produce and publish mediation procedures, it envisages that it will enable clients to appreciate the time involved in handling cases, and at the same time will transfer knowledge and information to clients.