Using formal and traditional legal systems to support women in IDP camps

Providing legal aid to women in IDP camps
Runn Abdi is interviewed by a paralegal from the Puntland Legal Aid Centre (PLAC) © UNDP/Said Isse

Ruun Abdi (43) sits beside a community elder in an internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Garowe, in the State of Puntland, north eastern Somalia. She is telling her story and watching carefully as a paralegal writes it down. Like many women in the camp, Ruun has received legal aid support from the Puntland Legal Aid Centre, after she had sought advice for a financial dispute she was having with her husband.

The Puntland Legal Aid Centre (PLAC) was established in 2007 with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the UN Joint Rule of Law Programme, and with funding from EU and the UK. The centre provides legal services to the most vulnerable communities in Puntland, promoting and protecting the rights of women, the elderly, children, victims of sexual and gender based violence, prisoners and internally displaced persons. 

Lawyers and paralegals from the centre visit camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) on a weekly basis to hold legal aid sessions. Many of the cases the Puntland legal team encounter in the camps are family disputes and domestic violence cases, and over half of those the team supports are women. 

Ruun sought advice from the legal centre when she became concerned that her husband had not been providing support to her family for a number of years. She describes how the lawyers, paralegals and elders worked as a team and heard both her own and her husband’s case separately.  Ruun says the assistance provided by the team has given her perspective on her case. 

“I now understand the problems that my husband was facing and I found the collaborative mediation process the centre uses reassuring”, she said. The paralegal team worked with community elders to settle the case and Ruun and her husband reconciled after her husband agreed to contribute a monthly amount to the family household. 

The Puntland legal aid team, as part of UN Joint Rule of Law Programme, works to give women within the camp an avenue to bring their concerns forward and to be more aware of their rights. The centre holds legal awareness discussion sessions where all sectors of the community, including community elders, are present.  

For Ruun, the work the centre is undertaking has made a big difference to women’s lives. “We now have a voice which is listened to and respected,. The men now prefer to settle and mediate. Even the elders have changed, before the elders would prioritize, listen to and side with the men, but now they are fairer and even defend us and recognize our vulnerability as women,” she said.

By including women in legal aid and legal awareness sessions led by paralegals, the work the Puntland Legal Aid Centre is carrying out in IDP camps has elevated the position of women within the camp and increased women’s confidence in traditional elder mediation of disputes. In utilizing existing traditional systems when delivering formal justice, the Centre is contributing to increased access to formal justice systems for Somali people in IDP camps, where formal justice can be out of reach and traditional systems are used instead.

The Puntland Legal Aid Centre is run with UNDP support under the UN Joint Rule of Law Programme. The Joint Programme works with Government partners to strengthen justice institutions and increase access to justice services across Somalia. The justice component of the Rule of Law programme is funded by the European Union and by the UK through its Department for International Development (DFID).

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Ruun Abdi sits with a community elder and a paralegal from the Puntland Legal Aid Centre
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A community elder speaks during a mediation session © UNDP/Said Isse
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Lawyers and paralegals from the Centre hold a legal awareness session

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