The Female Lawyer’s Association of the Gambia (FLAG), a civil society organization comprising female lawyers volunteering to deliver advocacy, training and free legal aid in the Gambia has just completed the 2015 legal training for rural women. According to a news release from FLAG, the training is part of an EC Funded 3- year project to promote the socio-economic position of women in the CRR.

The project’s beneficiaries are over 120 rural women in CRR districts of Niamina Dankunku, Niamina East and Niamina West who were trained in their languages.

The training, the release states, delivered lessons on all aspects of Citizen’s Rights, legal frameworks and Constitutional Rights with focus on national legal frameworks such as the Women’s Act, the Children’s Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Domestic Violence Act, Land Rights (including help in Registering individual and group held Land) illegality of early and forced marriages, Widows rights and information of Sharia Laws. The training also helped the women to understand the role of police and court systems as well as available solutions if their rights were abused.

The first phase of training sessions took place on the 10th to 13th September; Niamina East was from 17th to 20th September and Niamina West from the 9th to 11th October.

According to the release, the trainers went to meet up with participants in their various villages and interviewed the communities that were sensitized by the rural women trainees who attended the FLAG trainings.

“We wanted the women involved in activities that would help them better recall practical advice on access to justice, and we did this very successfully with active learning” explained FLAG EC Project Officer Soma Njie. She added: “These women are extremely sharp… They showed so much potential that we hope to return to provide further training to get them to a level where they can act as Rural Paralegals. Within one or two months they were able to sensitize so many other members of their Communities – men and women were even coming from other communities having heard about the dramas and requesting that they perform them again for them… It was a tremendous success as the EC FLAG training has affected thousands positively as a result of these 40 women’s hard work.”

FLAG’s return to the villages was to see how well participants managed to pass on their legal rights training to their Communities as the training was designed to be able to be passed onto a wider audience through the participant’s women’s groups. It turned out to be more successful than that, bringing together whole communities.

“The participants told FLAG that they were extremely grateful for the training, for the legal aid that FLAG offered to the women and for all the legal structures in place that the Government has provided for women in rural communities. We were equally happy with the way they participated and with how they welcomed us into their Community,” said Madam Njie.

She said in addition to court based civil procedures, FLAG encouraged the women to use ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) where advisors can help solve matters without the need for court. (It was noted that ADR can only be utilised where no criminal offence is been committed).

“People find it strange that lawyers would recommend not using a lawyer,” laughs one of the trainers, FLAG’s coordinator – Mam Amie Jobe.She continued “but our job at FLAG is to help participants come up with the best ways to solve disputes for the women, not the best ways to create work for lawyers. Regardless the Law and FLAG are there for those who need us.”

Madam Jobe said they teach women to communicate better in the home, to respect their partners and communities – as it is better to prevent trouble than to have to solve it after the fact.

FLAG was happy to report that the training had an immediate impact on the Communities and Project Officer Soma Njie explained a few instances where community members were informed of the training content by participants and effected wonderful changes. “Several women told us that they decided not to withdraw their daughters from school to be married as a result of what they had been told. Others told us about how their pregnant girls would be returning to school, or how their Communities were finding ways to observe their Rights to Land. The communities discussed the issues that were brought up and often realized the benefits of things like allowing their daughters to complete school, or giving women land so that they can help feed their families,” said the Coordinator.

Madam Jobe said “Sometimes FLAG is wrongly accused of inciting women to turn against their husbands but it is good that that image is changing fast. We train women to understand their Rights so that their whole family can benefit. The Gambia Women’s Right Laws should never create problems within families or communities, they are intended to strengthen our great Nation and they do.”

She concluded that when every citizen’s rights are observed and protected, then the nation as a whole becomes stronger.

It was disclosed that FLAG will be returning to the CRR for the final year of this three year project with more activities under this EC funded project.