Access to justice during Covid-19: Stories from the frontline

Covid-19 has redrawn the boundaries of where we feel safe. National lockdowns during the early stages of the pandemic forced people to retreat to the safety of their own homes to prevent the spread of the virus. Yet the risks this posed to many, particularly women and girls, initially went unnoticed.

As reports surfaced of escalating rates of domestic violence and economic exploitation, LAP members were quick to respond, voting to award a grant of £30,000 to the Justice Centre for Legal Aid (JCLA) in Jordan to increase their legal services to those most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. Here is what they and those they supported have to say:

Justice Centre for Legal Aid (JCLA):

“This project was designed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak that hit Jordan and the entire world in March 2020. The pandemic not only put public health at risk, but further exacerbated and negatively impacted the situations of vulnerable populations in Jordan. While necessary to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 at the height of the outbreak, the decision to put the country into a nationwide lockdown has had devastating consequences on the most vulnerable, especially for women and girls.

From the outset, JCLA saw an increase in specific legal issues affecting those most vulnerable to the crisis. In addition to domestic violence, many already vulnerable individuals found themselves facing tenancy disputes, arbitrary work terminations and cybercrime due to COVID-19 and the impact of the government’s Defence Orders. As the result of the measures, many individuals experienced labour issues concerning arbitrary dismissal and lack of payment of wages. Many also reported an increase in blackmail during quarantine as well as rumours and misinformation spread over social media. Women and girls in particular reported increases in incidents of online sexual harassment and sexual exploitation.

Under this project, JCLA provided specialised Legal Support Services for those vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 and experiencing legal problems in relation to labour, criminal, civil, cybercrimes and tenancy issues, with a particular focus on vulnerable women and girls experiencing gender-based violence and domestic violence. During the project, JCLA provided 579 legal consultations, 82 in-court representations, and 11 accompaniment services, providing a total of 672 legal services to its beneficiaries.”

Here are some of the stories of those they helped.

Finding somewhere to go                                 

A 28-year-old Jordanian woman has no safe place to be as her husband of four years has been mentally, physically, and financially abusing her. When her stepmother refused to let her stay at her father’s house, she resorted to staying with her sister, with no stability. At this stage she has no means financially to support her 3 young children, and sometimes cannot even afford to buy them food or the basics to meet their hygiene needs. She sought help from JCLA for her lack of documentation, as her husband had confiscated her ID card and thrown it away.

First, JCLA community facilitators accompanied her to the Department of Civil Status to help her get a new ID. She had to obtain an individual case entry to get an ID. JCLA’s facilitators also accompanied her to Sharia court to help her get a marriage contract, which she needed to get a new ID card. After getting all the documents she needs in order, the Department of Civil Status issued her a new ID. Despite the process normally taking two weeks, in this case they issued her ID in under an hour.

“I will never forget this service for as long as I live. My dad shut the door in my face because of his wife’s pressure, but every time I remember what you have done for me, I feel like there’s good in this world. Thank you for being there, if it weren’t for you so many people would have had to put up with abuse and exploitation. Thank you for your services. I never thought this issue would end so quickly, I thought it’d take years and it would be a struggle.”

Securing a future

“Someone is threatening me, and I can’t have my family know about the issue. How am I ever going to solve my problem?”

“I want someone to stand by my side and support me”

A 17-year-old Palestinian girl came to JCLA from an impoverished family with no source of financial support. Their only source of income was from charities and 30 JDs from Tkiyet Um Ali.

She was married to a man who physically and emotionally abused her. Although she had been married to him for only 5 months, he had already put her through multiple kinds of abuse, including locking her in a room for days at a time, with no food or water.

She heard of JCLA from a relative and sought JCLA’s assistance in getting a divorce to free herself of the abuse of her husband. JCLA lawyers filed a divorce lawsuit and Lina got her divorce and a sum of money which could support her in starting her own small business.

Escaping violence

A 23-year-old Palestinian woman had been living with her mother for a year, having recently left her husband. During their marriage her husband would physically abuse her and deliberately drug her food and drink, until she developed an addiction she is currently being treated for.

She sought help from JCLA and due to her bad health condition, her mother accompanied her to her visits to JCLA. One of JCLA’s lawyers assessed her case and gave her a consultation. He recommended she get representation for a divorce and alimony case. She decided to go through with his recommendation, and another of JCLA’s lawyers represented her in sharia court.

The divorce case is ongoing in court and going smoothly and she has already been awarded alimony. Upon hearing the good news, she expressed her gratitude, “Thank you so much for your efforts. I did not expect to receive such a sum for alimony, and I did not expect the case to end so quickly.”

To find out more about JCLA and their current projects, visit their website.

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