[Webinar] Tackling Gender Based Violence Through Legal Empowerment

This webinar featured a conversation between legal empowerment practitioners empowering women in their communities in Guatemala, India and Nigeria to know their rights and take on leadership roles to end gender-based violence.

Worldwide an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime, and each of the countries represented in this webinar is grappling with issues of gender based violence. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, with the danger increasing for rural, indigenous women. In India, nearly 50% of Indian women experience violence in their own homes. Over 50% of men, women, boys and girls believe that this is normal. Nigeria has the third highest absolute number of child brides in the world, and child marriage is particularly common among Nigeria’s poorest, rural households

Each presenter discussed their experiences, profiled effective legal empowerment strategies they’ve used to address gender based violence. They related how the challenges they face in their work across continents are often very similar, but so are the solutions.

On April 16, we held a webinar led by three dynamo practitioners from Guatemala, India, and Nigeria on how legal empowerment efforts support women and girls to know their rights and take on leadership roles to end GBV.

Comments and questions from registrants are copied below.


@fatimaadamu of the Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative which gives the children and women of Nigeria an opportunity to escape from the cycle of poverty fostered by long held traditional beliefs through economic empowerment programs and access to qualitative education and health care. Fatima will share strategies her team uses to offer safe spaces to women and girls, and mitigate the ever-evolving challenges that arise when combating gender-based violence.

@KateFlatley the founder and director of Women’s Justice Initiative, building a more equitable world for Mayan women and girls by combating gender inequality and violence against women and girls through WJI’s four different programs. After completing these programs, 42% of participants sought legal aid from WJI, a 950% increase from baseline, where 4% of women reported having received legal aid in the past. Kate will also discuss how oftentimes what a practitioner may see as a positive legal outcome is not what a survivor may view as a positive outcome in their personal life.

@Farzanakhan of My Choices Foundation which aims to reduce domestic violence in India through thousands of PeaceMakers who are trained in family and marriage counseling and all aspects of the Domestic Violence Act. You can read more about her work in our network’s Member Spotlight. Farzana will outline how My Choices employs “PeaceMakers” to work in community counseling, educating, and assisting victims of domestic violence.

**Pioneers from our movement are confronting the global emergency that is GBV. We learned about about the challenges they face in their local contexts, how their efforts can translate and echo across continents, and how legal empowerment can help women and girls live free from violence and exploitation.


I am excited to hear these three leading women’s rights activists from our network present in this webinar next Tuesday on the use of legal empowerment in combatting gender based violence. We already have nearly 500 registrants for this webinar, which demonstrates the overwhelming interest in addressing GBV in our community. Please spread the word with your colleagues and partners as @fatimaadamu (Nigeria), @KateFlatley (Guatemala), and @Farzanakhan (India) are truly spirited and experienced allies in our collective fight.

We will be sharing more on the results from our recent annual survey soon, but women’s rights was the leading issue among those who responded this year. It is also the leading issue area of all members who selected thematic areas of interest upon joining the network over the years. Based on this interest, we will be looking to have an open call/discussion in the coming weeks with members who are interested to explore collaborative possibilities that our network might focus on - more about that soon.

In the meantime, hope to see many of you at Tuesday’s webinar!



Dear Michael

I am excited to hear the good News about the webinar about tackling GBV through legal empowerment.

It is my expectation that we are going to exchange ideas to fight against GBV.

Flora Masoy


Very interesting, the right time to end Gender Based Violence


Hello everyone and thank you for tuning in! I appreciate that all the attendees held fast despite the technical difficulties. The entire webinar was at our max attendance rate the entire time, and we continued to receive questions up until the very end of the webinar. I am copying here the questions that we received during the webinar, in hopes that we can continue the discussion on the forum.

Panelists: @fatimaadamu @KateFlatley @Farzanakhan

  • Drishti Aggarwal- How to work on the cases of domestic violence in tribal areas where the local laws do not believe in the legal system and have their informal systems to reach a mediation? However, sometimes these mediations are mostly against the women. What is the best way to train these community paralegals, especially when most of these women come from the same communities?

  • Lisa Hilbink- Thank you so much for your important work and these informative and inspiring presentations. I have three questions that are relevant for all three presenters:

    • How/where do you begin to identify and recruit community advocates/paralegals (peacemakers in India)? Can you give us examples of how you have done this?

      • Kate: We work with organizations that work in the community towards identifying women and also work with community leaders and elected officials. We make sure women are interested beyond being nominated try to identify passion for working with communities. We identify different advocates focussing on different roles in the program (educating, advising communities etc.
      • Farzana: We have 5 centers which are usually (3 to 5 km)and always within the communities we work and so this is where we select the women (focussing on those who are already active in the communities playing some role or another). We have intensive training (10 days) then monthly.
    • Can you explain how you have been able to build collaborative relationships with service providers? Has this been done formally or informally?

      • Fatima: We are members of many networks (joint actors meetings) that bring together stakeholders and service providers eg counseling and probono services. We have a referral system: reaching out to people who have capacities.
    • Finally, do you have any experience in marginalized urban communities? What are the unique challenges in urban vs. rural contexts?

  • Tyra Williams- Are the community paralegals trained by Yourself or by an accredited centre?

  • @SonalSoni - When we talk about counselling, what is the approach for the same? is it more woman-oriented (her safety and security) or family-oriented?

  • Sabine Michaud- I understand that learning our rights is the first step or one of first steps towards “empowerment”. It’s not a goal but a mean. What are the forwards steps ? How do you measure legal empowerment (indicators)?

    • Other steps towards legal empowerment and how to measure?
      • Farzana: Showing a violence free life is their right (initial measure up), then the community started opening up to the issues.
      • Fatima: Take note on resistance in the beginning and a harsh working environment to women coming forward and seeking for support. Law enforcement start to refer women (story of women who decided to take action by demanding their names to be put back in the list). There are also referrals from neighbors who have been involved in the process.
      • Kate: We take quantitative and qualitative data (No of women seeking services (pre and post graduating from the courses). Track referral: SP who have referred having gone through the programming and women who have gone through the program. We hold regular interviews with survivors of violence, and conduct focus groups as well.
  • Susan Timberlake: Do any of the programs pay or compensate financially their paralegals/community advocates? If not how to deal with burn out? How do you measure the impact and effectiveness of programs in terms of impact beyond individaul cases, e.g. the police trainings?

  • @Wigayi from Women’s Legal Aid Centre, Tanzania - How are we making women part of solution and not only beneficiaries?

    • Fatima: By having female paralegals and teachers who train, they support women to navigate the issues
    • Kate: We have female paralegals and trainers. Women are involved throughout the process of developing community action plans. We focus on legal needs identified by women (legal services program informed need for land titling and identification program).
  • Access to justice is expensive especially in formal legal systems because it needs time, money for transport and sometimes it is hard for a woman to leave her business and attend court sessions. Some of the cases take 2 to 7 years as a result they give up on their rights. How have been you able to package legal empowerment and economic empowerment especially for organization which has no economic empowerment?

  • How have you been able to retain community paralegals in case of funding difficulties?

  • At what time do you engage men as champions to end VAWG?

  • @Vsalasramos - I would like to know from her more about the strategies form needs assessment. How have they done that in practice? What are the main challenges they have faced in that process?

  • @Sabrina_Mahtani Thanks for the great work. We’d be keen to know how you obtain funding and what challenges you experience.

  • @iochieng - We are in the process of developing peacemakers model in Kenya Siaya County but we are limited in resources. Is this program able to partner with us to make this dream come true?

  • Raluca Popa, IDLO - Hello, this is Raluca Popa from IDLO, joining from the Hague. I would like to ask in particular Fatima about their experience working with customary and religious systems - she mentioned village heads, Sharia courts. We’re continuing to do work on women and customary justice and I’d be grateful for her reflection on the role of these systems when it comes to SGBV

  • Mariam Alo - Hello everyone. I am a lawyer with Justice & Empowerment Initiatives Nigeria. My question is for Fatima Adamu; how do you handle cases in which the investigative agency, i.e the Police is biased ab initio and does not make proper investigations, even before a sexual violence case goes to court?

  • Does your agency provide continued psychosocial support for survivors? If yes, what mechanisms have you got in place for that? Are they in house, or do you collaborate with other organisations or survivor centres?

  • Margaret Chambeshi - This is a very good presentation. This question is for Farzana- Would you also have data of how many women who have come to your office to provide self reports of abuse for us to have an idea of those self reporting compared to the cases identified by community peace-makers? Of the cases that have gone to the courts for proceedings, what is the percentage of those successfully completed and what are is the main challenge you encounter in successfully completing these cases especially child sexual abuse? This question is for Fatima- I just wanted to find out what initiatives you are also taking to address issues of sexual prevention to in-schools girls other than just those in the safehome. And what influence is there from the traditional systems to challenge some of the negative or strong barriers from households that hold back from reporting the GBV cases? Would you have data of some change taking place as a result of the coordination meetings you have with traditional structures? Any negative cultural practices you have also addressed to break the silence in families from not reporting?

  • Herve Mbouri Mbak - How does your intervention reinforce the culture of India specially in the case of marriage?

  • Sharanjeet Parmar - Hi, A question for Farzana: How does your programme build trust and successfully interact with extended family members involved in domestic violence cases? Thank you!


Dear Maddy,

We are honored to see the overwhelming response to the subject. I would really like to answer the questions, will go through each of these questions over the weekend and get back to you.

Best Regards,



@LisaHilbink As regards experience in marginalized urban communities, the bulk of our work at IWEI is mainly in rural communities . However, our partners in JEI Lagos, work with the urban poor and slum dweller @andrewmaki may be able to support with beneficial information.

@TyraWilliams our initial training was a step down training after attending a TOT in 2011. after a while, we started to engage the services of lawyers from the faculty of law from a university,Lawyers from the Nigerian Bar Associations and the Legal Aid Council . As time went on and in our bid and work towards paralegal licensing and certification in Nigeria, we decided to institutionalize. This made redesign our programmes and now, our lawyers train paralegals with support from existing paralegals who take seesions mainly on case studies and experience sharing. @Wigayi , packaging legal empowerment especially for organizations without economic empowerment is very difficult I agree but one of the major take home from Bangladesh for us as an organization is the importance of working in networks and collaborations. If an organization works with partners who come to the table with various services, it is easier to withstand the challenges related to finances. Another opportunity we explored and are still learning about which was an idea I also conceived in Bangladesh focusing on CSR companies. They may not fund legal empowerment directly but they fund economic empowerment and education including other areas. That can also be a way to mitigate the challenge.

Paralegal retention continues to be a challenge though we have been able to retain some beyond 3 years. On this particular issue, there is no single solution for all cases. With some, we have engaged them at various levels either as data collectors or community mobilizers for paid projects while for some others , they believe in the principles of “good name being better than riches” So with this group, we share the story of the good work they do with their communities and we appreciate them for their work. Sometimes, we have donors who allow for stipends to be paid and at such times, they earn some money and when the project ends, they continue the work for the sake of humanity. Others are motivated by religious believes, the fact that one gets reward from God for supporting people in need. Others just stay(). @Mariamalo: I understand your predicament with the NPF and they can be easy to work with and sometimes very difficult. Over the yers, we have generated a data base of senior officers within the police force and sometimes, we just make a phone call to let them know we are following up with a case as soon as it is reported.( It is mandatory for paralegals to notify the office immediately the receive a case of SGBV with details of survivor and IPO of the case. 2. We have had to write to the commissioner of police copying the DPO of the division with complete details of the case and the IPO. This has been very effective with the commissioner calling for re-investigation and cases being charged eventually. However, in such events, you may have lost the ingredients needed to proof RAPE but you can still charge lesser offences instead letting them go free and roaming within. We talk more about this when we attend the up coming paralegal summit in May in Lagos in shaa Allah

I hope these helps; I promise to respond to other questions directed at me soonest in shaa Allah


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