Tshwaranang is currently raising funds to establish a Legal Clinic for marginalised women and children.
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About the Legal Clinic
Tshwaranang seeks to promote access to justice for women and girls who are experiencing or at risk of experiencing gender based violence in South Africa. One way of achieving this is to establish a much needed legal clinic in their Johannesburg office. The legal clinic will provide legal representation, advice, support and community outreach initiatives to women and girls in the peri-urban and informal settlements of the Gauteng province in South Africa.
The establishment of a legal clinic, will provide direct legal representation to women and girls who are victims of gender based violence and referral organisations. At present Tshwaranang refers clients to external attorneys and the back and forth clients experiences usually discourages them from pursuing the matter. Tshwaranang also has the opportunity to further serve their clients by filing documents, briefing counsel directly and moving cases equitably, effectively and efficiently through their offices towards resolution. The Tshwaranang legal clinic will ensure women and girls are provided a service that will see them receive quality legal advice on their matters and more importantly that their cases are resolved quickly and they get the appropriate recourse in the justice system.
While the South African Government established Legal Aid SA to provide legal representation to indigent members of the community, it faces severe capacity constraints and at times discourages women from further pursuing justice outcomes for their matters. In addition to this, Pro bono attorneys are often reluctant to take on matters that lack a public interest dimension particularly in the lower courts where there is virtually no prospect of setting precedents. The legal clinic will be an important initiative in promoting access to justice for women and girls in the area of gender based violence.
Approval to register and establish a law clinic has already been granted by the Law Society of the Northern Province. The challenge now is raising enough funds to implement this initiative.
The Need for a Legal Clinic
Women are frequently referred to Tshwaranang for legal advice and support through a wide variety of channels. The cases referred to Tshwaranang predominantly concern domestic violence, sexual offences, divorce and maintenance issues. These impact most significantly on the poorest and most marginalised women in society who do not have access to resources. Tshwaranang has established an information and referral system which provides basic legal advice and refers cases to partner organisation working on family law matters. However the disadvantage to this current system is Tshwaranang cannot afford to monitor the delivery of services for these clients and at times the back and forth to external attorneys often discourages clients. It was determined that a Legal Clinic was required.
A 2013 study conducted by Gender Links in four provinces of South Africa reported that all participants had experienced some form of violence (emotional, physical, economic or sexual) at least once in their lifetime both within and outside their intimate relationships. The South African Police Services (SAPS) recorded 56,680 and 53,617 reports of sexual offences nationally in 2013/14 and 2014/15 respectively. Although this data was not disaggregated by sex or age, empirical evidence suggests the majority of the victims were women. Statistics on Violence against women and children (VAWC) are commonly understood as providing significant understimates of the true figures. Research has estimated that only 1 in 25 women report incidences of sexual violence. Factors influencing underreporting range from lack of trust and faith in the system to low conviction rates as well as secondary victimisation caused by the treatment of survivors by the system. Where offences are reported there is limited evidence of justice outcomes for survivors of violence and a culture of impunity for offenders despite the existence of a strong legal framework for addressing these crimes. A collaborative study conducted by Tshwaranang, and Medical Research Council(MRC) in Gauteng showed that only 50% of rape suspects are arrested and of those only 14% of cases went to trial with a nominal 3% and 7% of adult and children’s cases respectively resulting in a successful prosecution. Some of the contributing factors to such low prosecution rates include lack of understanding of the criminal justice processes; community members; limited court support services and lack of access to legal services.
The issues outlined above create an ongoing and urgent need for specialised, women centred legal services that focus on justice for women and girls who have experienced violence or are under threat of violence. Limited options exist for referring women on to the specialised legal advice their situation requires. The result of this is that justice becomes a hope rather than an expectation and many women and children are left in highly vulnerable situations with limited and uncertain protection.
By establishing the Legal Clinic Tshwaranang will be able to:
· Provide direct legal representation to the women who self-refer or are referred by other organisations.
· Greatly reduce the number of times women are moved and re-referred between services, forced to retell their story and relive their trauma, which is known as secondary victimisation.
· Reduce the uncertainty associated with relying on the availability of pro-bono attorneys and advocates.
· Tshwaranang would have the opportunity to further serve its clients by filing documents, briefing counsel directly and to move cases equitably, effectively and efficiently through our offices towards resolution.
· Ensure that women who self-refer with limited time for legal preparation before court appearances are still able to receive high quality legal representation
· Intervene as amicus curiae in matters that concern access to, or the administration of justice without having to rely on intermediary attorneys.
· Conduct community outreach in the selected communities to raise awareness on gender based violence.