1.2 Improving the Legal Status of Women

Project Example:Promotion of legal awareness of Women in Ecuador

Although in a formal, legal sense women have been granted equality with men in almost all states, in most cases the reality is far from being ideal. This is especially so in rural areas, where traditional behaviour and customary rules still dominate, despite their often stark contrast to constitutionally and legally guaranteed rights of women, for instance in regard to property and inheritance.
Even when women recognize injustice in the system, they are often incapable of demanding their rights, due to such factors as their low levels of education or the lack of adequate legal counsel. This can lead to especially harsh consequences when women are in states of separation or divorce, and can have a negative impact on the economic and social situation of many women.
There are several ways to improve the legal situation of women:
by supporting organizations which inform women of their rights and offer counsel in legal actions;
through publications which inform women of their rights and where to find legal counsel;
by organizing broad out-reach activities which raise awareness for the issues, e.g. in the media or through organized dialogues;
by supporting projects aimed at improving the legal parameters for women and the development of legislation, especially in the context of budding democratization and constitutional negotiations in many states;
by contributing the practical experience gleaned from project activities, and by sharing strategies for gender equity in advisory programs for legislative assemblies;
by encouraging greater participation of women in the political decision-making process, not only ti make sure that women may influence the making of legislation, but also to heighten awareness for the issues among decision-makers.

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Project Example

Promotion of legal awareness of Women in Ecuador

Our partner organization CEPAM (Centro Ecuatoriano Para La Promocion Y Accion De La Mujer) has been active for approximately 10 years in the practice of advising women about their legal rights. The mutual goal of our cooperation, which began in 1985, has been the improvement in the broadly-defined living conditions of women in the poorer quarters of large and medium-sized Ecuadorian cities by strengthening their legal status. Concrete sub-aims include:
Creating a broad legal self-awareness in favour of this target group and an improvement of existing legislation.
Support for women's organization in poorer areas in the development of awareness raising and counceling activities.
In the start-up phase, individual case consultations took place with the goal of identifying concrete problem areas. In the following, the project work was rapidly extended to other metropolitian and mid-sized cities. Being no longer limited to the city of Quito, specific consultation for organizations and broad public awareness campaigns received more emphasis. As a result of further conceptual development, the following points have proven to be important areas:
Advice and Support for Women Seeking Assistance
Women who separate from or divorce their partners are especially in need of advice, as constitutionally guaranteed guidelines for financial support are often ignored. CEPAM receives funding for its consultation services.
Victims of male violence can also receive legal and psychological support from CEPAM. A women's shelter for abused women and children as well as a health centre have also been built in cooperation with various governmental agencies.
As a result of extensive experience with out-of-court settlements, CEPAM has instituted a program of legal and psychological counsel for men too.
Training and Further Education for "Orientadoras Legales"
Women chosen from local organizations receive special training in fundamental legal issues, which strengthens their self-help potential in everyday conflicts. These Orientadoras Legales transmit their knowledge in their social environment and thus have an important function in legal guidance.
Organizational Assistance for Women's Initiatives in Poverty-Stricken Areas
CEPAM also provides training for outreach personnel in other organizations and provides them with the necessary know-how to found legal-aid centres in other cities.
Development of Publicity Campaigns to help Realize Legal Equality for Women
In addition to producing relevant materials for distribution and organizing media activities to reach a wider audience, CEPAM also attempts to create greater awareness and sensitivity for the obstacles these women face through its role in consultations with governmental legal institutions, including the judiciary, congress, government, and local administrations. CEPAM helps to motivate these bodies to advance the status of women.
Counseling personnel from CEPAM improve their potential for success through continuous education courses. This wide-reaching project has had a positive influence and success in improving legislation and jurisprudence in regard to women of lower socio-economic status, and provides them with legal advice and knowledge. Thanks to the self-help nature of CEPAM's counseling program, women are made capable of helping themselves and others within certain limits. Through consciousness-raising and informative measures, CEPAM helps to improve the legal and social parameters in which women and children live.

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