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Access to legal aid services for women in Ethiopia

The provision of free/affordable legal aid services is effective in increasing access for vulnerable segments of the population. Previously,  the low level of awareness about legal rights and procedures  to get useful and affordable mechanisms to exercise the right to access justice (legal services) was a challenge in Ethiopia.

Legal aid service can be provided directly by state institutions or it may facilitate the provision of the same to the needy in society by allowing non-state actors like non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society organizations (CSOs), and other professional organizations and academic institutions to provide this kind of support. This support may take the form of;

  1. Mandatory/voluntary pro bono services by licensed advocates or government institutions
  2. Legal aid programs run by professional associations or NGOs, and
  3. Legal aid clinics established by law faculties within public universities

Some of the institutions/organizations providing free or affordable legal aid services for the vulnerable groups of women in Ethiopia include:

State institutions – legal institutions in Ethiopia is providing legal aid services for criminal proceedings services like public defender, court appointed counsel, and publicly financed private representation. In general, the Ethiopian government provides legal aid services through two institutions: the Public Defender’s Office (PDO), and other mandated government institutions (for example the Attorney General/Regional Justice Bureaus). In addition to these institutions are;

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which has established 111 Free Legal Centers country-wide to provide legal aid to the most vulnerable groups free of charge.

Universities and law clinics – law faculties of public universities also provide legal aid services. More than 15 public universities have initiated and expanded legal aid clinics and poor and vulnerable people including women, children, elders and persons in custody have been using their services. Soem fo these institutions include: Bahir Dar University Legal Aid Center, Jimma University Legal Aid Center and Mekelle University Legal Aid Center.

Pro bono schemes by lawyers and bar associations

  • Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) – Under its Legal Aid Program EWLA assists women, particularly disadvantaged women, who are victims of gender-based violence free of charge. The service includes legal advice/counselling, writing court briefs (court charges and affidavits) as well as representing clients in court. [Read: EWLA making a stand for women's rights]
  • The Ethiopian Lawyers' Association (ELA) - is a non-profit making and a non-partisan professional association of attorneys. It provides legal aid to those who are economically and social underprivileged. It aims at making justice accessible to the needy.