My voice, their story

The moment we introduced the topic about Access to Justice (AtoJ), all we could hear were murmurs of disgruntlement. Surely, we would be facing a bitter, aggrieved crowd that had stories of unjust acts in their communities. One by one as they narrated their stories, we were presented with a picture of communal hopelessness and fear that seemed bleak but we hoped it was not insurmountable. At least it would not continue to be as bleak if we achieved the purpose of our trip.

This was the scene that presented itself in Mpika where the ZGF team conducted an information sharing session on Access to Justice call for proposals supported by the European Union Capacity Development Programme. Prior to Mpika, we had delivered the same info-session in Kasama where it was also clear that access to justice is an issue which needs special attention as many people we interacted with had at some point experienced barriers to accessing legal recourse.

Access to justice is the ability of regular citizens to access their legal institutions and systems. However, it goes beyond access to courts and even addresses cultural norms and practices that may limit a citizens’ ability to protect themselves, their possessions or even their ideas.

In Mpika, one gentleman said, speaking out on issues to do with access to justice could be dangerous for an individual. “Who protects us when we speak out, people in positions of influence always block access to justice. Who do I even tell when I am aggrieved and want to raise an issue with authorities?” he queried.
Many issues which centered on defilement, land disputes, lack of access to education and health were also raised during the meeting. Sadly, time did not allow us to address all the issues presented but rather share information on what could be done to support communities continued access to legal protections.
This is where ZGF’s call for proposals on Access to Justice comes in by providing support and capacity development to civil society and community based organisations that work to empower citizens through access to justice. The call for proposal focuses specifically on four dimensions of access to justice which are youth empowerment, child labour, land rights and environmental justice. The intervention is founded on the belief that a strong and reliable justice system is key to a secure a productive society. This relies in a large part on citizens’ ability and capability to understand and approach their justice system. However, when citizens’ ability to access justice is limited, a fundamental principle of access to justice is eroded.

The call hopes to encourage non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations to conceptualize highly innovative initiatives which can help communities’ access justice. It is about empowering communities to use their own voices to access justice and secure their rights.

By Tarisai Jangara