Ensuring legal rights, protection for women

Integrating communities

At a National Dissemination Meet on “Enhancing Access to Legal Services and Entitlements - Sharing Learning, Practices and Reflections”, that was convened in the capital recently, representatives of 46 Community Based Organisations (CBOs) of domestic workers, unorganised workers, sex workers, women living with HIV and transgender people from 13 states, shared their learning and practices while reflecting on how they could enhance access to legal services and entitlements for marginalised communities.

Explaining the purpose of the meet, Sanyogita Dhamdhere, senior program officer, Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), said this first ever dissemination meet was particularly significant because it had succeeded in bringing together the two key stakeholders viz the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) and the representatives of CBOs, to review and evolve ways in which access of marginalised communities to entitlements could best be strengthened and advanced.

“Women living with HIV constantly face discrimination because there are no laws to protect us against this life threatening stigma. Therefore, it is imperative to strengthen the free legal aid and services being provided by the legal services authorities, with greater protection and assistance being given to victims and survivors from marginalised communities,” P Kousalya, president, Positive Women’s Network said.

Renuka Pattar, working with Shakthi AIDS Tadegattuva Mahila Sangh, a sex workers’ CBO in Karnataka, highlighted the incessant violence and denial being faced by women in sex work. “Our community women face problems by husband and partners. We need police, medical and legal help, which is often inaccessible for women struggling to survive through sex work,” she said.

“Access to legal information and legal support continues to be a problem even in the case of domestic workers,” veteran leader of the National Domestic Workers Movement, Anthoni Ammal, from Tamil Nadu said.

“Domestic workers are caught in the crossfire of trying to keep their jobs going and at the same time, since they fear the repercussion of getting stigmatised, they are reluctant to speak out openly. This is a vicious cycle we are trying to get them out of,” she lamented. 

In her keynote address, Asha Menon exhorted sex workers, transgenders and other marginalised women to “speak up” and “complain against any injustice or denial” that they face. “Even the apex court has recognised the range of violations that you all experience. But unless you raise your voice, you will not be heard,” she emphasised.

While extending all support of the legal services authorities to sex workers, transgender persons and other marginalised women, Menon recommended the strengthening of the initiative of training Para Legal Volunteers (PLVs) from the community.

“Since the PLVs are drawn from the community, they better understand community issues and can play a crucial role in linking them up with legal aid. The initiative should be scaled up across the states,” she added.

Taking this forward, Dharmesh Sharma, member secretary of Delhi Legal Services Authority said, “The legal services authorities need to be far more sensitive towards issues of marginalised women and should take efforts to connect and engage with them.” Speaking about some of the key initiatives of the DLSA to support marginalised populations, he informed that the DLSA would be training 75 Para Legal Volunteers from marginalised communities including 25 transgender persons, ensure the disbursal of compensation under the Delhi Victim Compensation Scheme within 24 hours and the opening of a separate cell for transgender children in welfare homes.


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