Paralegals play critical role in seeking justice for women abuse survivors

By Jabu Sangweni, Director of the Centre for Community Justice and Development (CCJD)

The CCJD, established nearly 30 years ago, provides access to justice and legal empowerment to the poor and marginalized in KwaZulu-Natal. Based on our data base, women abuse accounted for 49% of cases handled by our network of 15 community-based advice offices (CAOs) around the province.

We believe justice for woman abuse survivors is found through collaboration with the police, magistrates’ courts, and traditional courts. The restorative justice process helps to mediate an abusive incident by helping the perpetrator better understand their wrong-doing. This process of restorative justice provides the opportunity to address the problem of women abuse holistically and directly.

The majority of women abuse cases are between spouses, and the cases are mostly resolved through our community-based restorative justice process. While the Domestic Violence Act (DVA) provides judicial measures to give victims swift and effective protection, some women choose not to use the remedies provided for in the DVA, and seek alternatives.

Key to this process is the crucial role our community-based paralegals have played in providing access to justice since 1997. They help to resolve family disputes and empower individual clients as well as whole communities through education and awareness programmes.

Our paralegals are trained to inform the victim about how the criminal justice system works and the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence cases. While we work within the informal justice process (best described as family mediation) and justice personnel work within the criminal justice system; the two are working together in response to what victims choose.

Often, victims in rural areas would rather not report woman abuse cases if this means going through the criminal justice system. However, our work with police and courts as well as with traditional authorities provides survivors with options. Justice systems working together helps woman abuse victims get the kind of justice they relate to and need.

How you can help

Sustainable funding: Paralegals are the pillars of CAOs and we rely on funding for their salaries. Their work is demanding and in some instances their own security is threatened. In light of high unemployment, especially amongst women in rural areas, we cannot expect them to volunteer only without remuneration.

Supporting resources: Paralegals are a source of information to their communities. They distribute educational pamphlets, inform communities and provide information materials, which need to be translated into isiZulu, a resource we cannot always provide.

Basic needs: Paralegals also support their clients by providing food and clothing to the poorer households and need support with transport.

Paralegal programmes are a key part of seeking justice for woman abuse survivors and are often poorly financed making it an on-going struggle to sustain them over time. The issue of sustainability could be solved by more donor investment in the work carried out by paralegals.