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THE RIGHT TO LEGAL AID

For Egypt's vulnerable communities

Story by United Nations Development Programme September 8th, 2016
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One day in Cairo, Egypt, on the front steps of a Family Court, Yasmin (not her real name) tells an all too common story.



“My husband and I are divorced. I repudiated him. He then kidnapped my eldest daughter. I didn’t know how to get her back, and I couldn’t find anyone to ask. Each time I went to the court I came back with my problem unresolved.”
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Poor and illiterate women and men are the most vulnerable when it comes to the labyrinthine procedures of Egypt’s family courts. Navigating the complex paperwork of the legal system is a serious obstacle in their search for justice.

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Since 2008, UNDP has been helping people like Yasmin through a project that provides legal aid for dispute settlements in family courts nationwide. Thanks to the help she received at the legal aid office, says Yasmin, she was able to file her claim.

Another plaintiff, Omaima Abdel Khaleq, explains how the project helped her bring a domestic violence case against her husband.

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“The legal aid office made me aware of what exactly I should do instead of being lost among lawyers,” she says. “It provided me with free services, everything was free.”
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The Legal Aid Office in Cairo that helped Omaima and Yasmin is just one of 32 established by the project across Egypt, and which together serve disputants in all of Egypt’s 257 family courts. The project is run in partnership with Egypt’s Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs and Sweden’s International Development Agency, and has now assisted in over 50,000 cases—more than 70% of them brought by women.

Providing legal aid is just one element of the project. It also includes training of staff, roundtables for family court judges, and assistance with digitizing and automating records in the family court system.

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“We are helping people themselves—and women themselves—with their legal rights,” says Project manager Gihane El Batouty.

This is having a very real impact in moving Egypt closer to the day where there will truly be justice for all.

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Footnote: Photos and story: Dylan Lowthian/UNDP
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