Legal Literacy, Rights Advice and Information for Poor People

Background and Objectives

The Project “Legal Literacy, Rights Advice and Information for Poor People: a Pilot in Three Regions of Ethiopia” was initiated in October 2008 through a partnership agreement entered into between the Active Learning Center of the University of Glasgow in the UK and the then Organization for Social Justice Ethiopia. Since May 2010 the main partner for the implementation of the Project in Ethiopia was the Center for Human Rights Studies (Addis Ababa University), since the Organization for Social Justice in Ethiopia was not able to continue as partner due to changes in status and mandate following the enactment of new Charities and Societies law in Ethiopia. Thus the Project moved to partner with the Center for Human Rights Studies in May 2010. Funding for the activities of the Project was sourced from the Department for International Development (DFID).

Based on the findings of a baseline study it conducted in 2008, the fundamental assumptions of the Project were that there are needs on the part of the poor and vulnerable for information and advice about their legal rights, and providing these needed information and advice is fundamental to tackling poverty. Based on this understanding the Project set objectives and implemented a number of specific activities to realize them.

The overall aim of the Project was to make a difference in the lives of poor people by raising awareness of their legal rights and assisting them in seeking legal remedies to violations of their rights. The targeted beneficiaries of the Project were poor people living in Addis Ababa, Adama, and Hawassa including those who live in the surrounding areas. The Project particularly catered for women, children, the elderly, people living with HIV/AIDS and those with disabilities.

The Project had the following specific objectives to achieve during its implementation period:

Identifying the key legal rights needs of poor people living in Addis Ababa, Adama, Hawassa and surrounding rural areas;
Raising awareness of the main rights that affect poor people;
Piloting and evaluating a means of providing rights advice and information to improve access to justice in urban and rural areas;
Initiating legal and policy changes that can make difference to the lives of the poor people, especially the most vulnerable groups by using the evidence from the clients using the Centers; and
Disseminating the result of the pilot to inform paralegal practice and anti-poverty work.
In the Provision of service to its beneficiaries the Project is guided by the following principles: free, confidential, impartial, independence, and empowering. To create community ownership of project activities, the project involves in its operation areas community members and community based organizations.

Main Activities of the Project

To achieve the objectives that the Project has set, it was engaged in different activities. The main ones are the following.

A. Legal literacy related activities

1.    Radio Programs:

In the project, most awareness-raising has been carried out using radio broadcasts. Hence a number of radio programs were transmitted on F.M Radio 98.1 which has a nation-wide audience. The programs covered include issues related to the rights of persons with disability, the rights of domestic workers, the rights of workers in the service industry, discrimination against women, family law issues, succession (including the rights of women to marital property), domestic violence, adoption and child rights, access to justice and legal aid. The topics covered by the radio programs reflect the types of issues about which clients have sought advice. The assumption underlying the radio programs is that raising awareness of rights precedes the ability to claim rights or seek remedies. The radio programs have taken a variety of formats including phone-in programs, where members of the public phone with their questions on a particular topic, discussion programs with legal experts talking about a specific issue, and also dramas telling stories of how rights affect situations.

2.    Briefing sheets:

The Project also used to print and distribute briefing sheets. The briefing sheets have two purposes. In one way they are used to disseminate information on key legal rights affecting the poor and vulnerable in reader friendly lay language. They are also used for advocacy purpose. Gaps in law and practice identified during legal aid service provision are highlighted in the briefing sheets along with recommendations of actions to be taken by the concerned state organ.

B. Legal Aid Service:

The Project has also established urban and rural legal aid centers for the provision of free legal advice and information for poor people in the cities of Addis Ababa, Adma, Hawassa and the surrounding rural areas. To enhance the quality of the legal aid service the Project has developed training manuals for paralegals, trained trainers for paralegals and trained a pool of paralegals drawn from law schools, community organizations, local administration, and children and women’s affairs offices.

Current status

The Legal Literacy, Rights Advice and Information for Poor People Project has wound up in March 2012 and is replaced by the much wider Access to Justice Project that commenced in December 2013. The Project was overall evaluated as a success by an independent evaluation research commissioned to assess the efficacy of the Project