As the 2016 GEM Report shows, many people lack the skills to gain access to complex justice systems, which community based education programmes can help address. Sufia Begum (pictured right) has provided legal aid and essential support to clients seeking legal redressal for abuse and discrimination for the past eight years. She was recognised as one of the five BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) Heroes of 2015. This HRLS model is based on legal education, legal aid and community mobilization. It has provided rights-based legal education to over 3.8 million people as of 2013.
In Sufia’s local area, the Kurigram’s char (riverine island) in northern Bangladesh, two of the practices that she often fights against are child marriage and hilla (interim) marriage. She helps women understand their legal rights and the laws through legal education classes that aim to empower them in seeking justice. These classes take place in 61 out of the 64 districts of Bangladesh. Class sizes range between 20-25 participants. Regional staff in the field conduct regular follow ups to ensure the programme’s impact is still being felt.
Locals in Sufia’s village now say no to child marriages, and continue to refute the conditions of the traditional hilla marriages commonly enforced by local community leaders.
In 2014, Sufia stood up for a client named Lina (pseudonym) and her family after Lina was raped and her family was forcefully confined in their home in Rangpur. Confinement is still a common practice in some rural villages when a rape occurs.
Sufia, then a field organiser in rural Bangladesh, found out about the forceful confinement. She resolved to safeguard Lina’s rights, even though she knew her life would be threatened.
Sufia sensitised the local community about the fact that rape is a criminal offense, and built support among local union council members and other influential community members calling for Lina to be released from forceful confinement. People started sympathising with Lina’s suffering, and eventually community support led to Lina and her family being freed.
Sufia helped Lina and her family resettle into their community. She sought medical assistance for Lina through a BRAC health worker. She helped the family file a complaint at the local police station against the perpetrator, and also filed a complaint on Lina’s behalf at one of BRAC’s legal aid clinics.
Sufia trains women like Lina to connect to the legal system, helping them pursue formal and informal legal services on their own accord. She is a compassionate rights advocate, accepted by the communities she works within, and was recognised for her indomitable courage in protecting Lina and her family’s rights.
This is only one story from BRAC’s HRLS programme. It is proof that many lack the knowledge and education to interact with the justice system and access their rights. This is a vital piece of the puzzle for any functioning justice system, something the 2016 GEM Report confirms is critical for sustaining peaceful societies.