Kenyan women becoming lawyers to win divorce, child custody in courts
The initiative, run by the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya (FIDA), equips women with legal information and useful advice on how to represent themselves in court.
But that is exactly what 44-year-old Kenyan Yvonne did after her businessman husband left her for another woman. For years he ignored her pleas for a divorce, leaving her with little option but to become her own lawyer and take him to court.
"I had never been in a court in my life and didn't know any of that legal jargon. I didn't even know whether you say 'Your Lordship or Your Honour'," laughed Yvonne, who makes a living doing voiceovers.
Unable to meet high legal fees and wary of dodgy lawyers, hundreds of women in Kenya are becoming their own advocates, taking to the courts to fight their estranged husbands for divorce, child custody and maintenance - and winning.
"We assess the client's ability in terms of how they talk and express themselves. If their ability is not to the standard, then we assign a pro bono lawyer," said Jeremy Mutika from FIDA's Access to Justice programme.
"Many clients have also had very bad experiences in their marriages, and so we have to ensure those who represent themselves are able to control their emotions and speak to the judge with a sober mind. This is essential."
BARRIERS TO JUSTICE
Kenya's economy has grown on average by 5 percent annually over the last decade, but the benefits have not been equally shared, and women and girls in the east African nation face discrimination and disadvantage.
Women own only 1 percent of agricultural land, despite contributing 80 percent of the country's farm labor, according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
Over 30 percent of Kenyan households are headed by females, yet they are poorer than households where the male is the bread-winner, adds KNBS.
Their right to land and assets, which is largely through inheritance and matrimonial property, is often denied by family members or ex-partners - hampering their chances to improve their lives and that of their children.
"I think access to justice programmes can help to demystify the whole issue surrounding the law," said Angela Nyamu, child protection advisor for the charity Terres Des Hommes.
"Women especially find it difficult to know what to do when they have the legal problem - so if there is someone to train and guide them through the process, this will create a level of confidence for them to believe they pursue justice."
FIDA's self-representation training focuses on straightforward civil cases such as divorce, custody and child maintenance, which lawyers say can be handled by selected clients with some support and training.
While some cases are simple and can be completed in months, others take longer - particularly if another party is resistant.
"I remember I was shaking the first time I went to the court, but it's so encouraging when you see the judge is listening to you and actions are being taken based on what you have said," said Kate, 34.
"But you need strength and determination. At the end of the day, it's about my rights and the rights of my children and that's what keeps me fighting."
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)