Lady Liberty SA, a mobile legal office to empower women
The Scalabrini Centre (“The work of the Scalabrini Centre has been made possible in part by a grant of R900 000-00 from the National Lotteries Commission”), has recently signed a partnership with Lady Liberty SA (NPO), a mobile legal office that travels to underprivileged and remote communities to empower women with access to basic legal information and case resolution around domestic violence, sexual assault, marriage, divorce, maintenance and wills. Lady Liberty is also in the process of creating digital means to reach women using their mobile phones in collaboration with Facebook, Vodacom and the Department of Justice & Constitutional Development (DoJ&CD). The first step of this co-operation was the workshop “Know your legal rights”, arranged by Lady Liberty and addressed to women who take part in the Women’s Platform of Scalabrini Centre. The free workshop was held on 15 March 2017 at the Scalabrini headquarter in Cape Town.
Sam Ngcolomba founded Lady Liberty in June 2014. So far Lady Liberty has impacted approximately 1600 women between the ages of 16 – 59 years in different Gauteng based townships, Mpumalanga, Free State and Eastern Cape. The Human Rights Attorney and founder of Lady Liberty, Sam Ngcolomba likes to define herself “a change agent”. Through her work in Women’s Rights and Social Entrepreneurship, she has recently been recognised as an Honouree of the Inaugural L’Oreal Paris ‘Women of Worth’ SA, an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Programme 2017 participant and previously a UN Women (Singapore Committee) and Master Card Foundation ‘Project Inspire’ semi-finalist.
In November 2016 she participated in Red Bull Amaphiko, a platform that “gives wings” to different social entrepreneurs in South Africa who are working tirelessly to grow their social and environmental ideas for a brighter South African future.
What ignited the spark in you to found this organisation?
I hate injustice of any sort. I am the first born out of 3 children and the first grandchild out of 9 grandchildren (on my mother’s side) and I think this enforced a great sense of responsibility I felt for other people. I also generally love people and as cliché as it sounds, I believe that everyone deserves the best that life can afford them without a shortage of basic resource. Law is currently only accessible to those with money and this is an injustice in itself.
How many people are working for Lady Liberty?
Not enough. I currently have 3 volunteers who are unable to commit full time due to a lack of resource to pay them.
How does the mobile office concept work? What does a typical working day schedule look like for Lady Liberty trainers?
Lady Liberty is a Non Profit mobile legal office that travels to marginalised communities to provide women there with access to basic legal information and services. We focus on marriage (customary vs. civil), divorce (process, asset distribution, spousal and child maintenance), domestic violence and wills. My days largely involve planning community road shows, trying to establish partnerships with other lawyers/ law firms to solve our cases, selling our ‘Women’s Rights Wellness Workshops’ to Corporates and a variety of other administration that comes with the work. The legal interns and trainers are involved extensively with the follow-up work post our road shows, which includes contacting all the women that require cases to be resolved. Additionally, the team also seeks to find lawyers to match our women to for case resolution as well as assists with ad hoc administration such as interview requests, meeting confirmations etc.
What is your strategy to improve the impact of Lady Liberty on its target audience and to increase its services in order to reach more women?
Firstly, collaboration is key for Lady Liberty as witnessed by our collaboration with the Scalabrini Centre. Our women face other challenges, which while connected to the law are not legal nature. These include trauma, unemployment and dependence on abusers and homelessness. Therefore we are collaborating with shelters, counsellors etc. Secondly, we are in the process of building a mobile application, USSD platform and mobi-site, which we received from Facebook. We seek to increase our reach by leveraging off technology and this will ensure we reach women that we cannot see face-to-face and it decreases the need for frequent roadshows. We are also in the process of setting up a call centre for the same reasons.
What are the most common problems faced by women that you assist?
The women we assist mostly deal with a lack of knowledge about the law and their rights and responsibilities. They live in poverty and cannot afford to reach lawyers in the suburbs/ areas that they operate from due to public transport costs. Furthermore, they are mostly illiterate and unemployed and cannot for example leave an abusive partner as they depend on them financially. Most of them do not understand English so cannot often understand different mediums of communication about their rights such as posters, newspapers, flyers, etc.
They are traumatised emotionally and mentally due to the violence and abuses they encounter and they are bound by many ‘cultural practices’ which make them powerless to the authority of male figures and elders around them which often inhibits them from seeking legal advise if for example a family member says “no”. Lastly, they often have no family or other support and end up homeless or vulnerable by seeking to enforce their rights in any particular case.
What are the most common violations of human rights impacting women in South Africa?
Cultural practices and/ or misuse and misinterpretation of them, sexual violence, domestic violence (all forms: physical, mental, financial & emotional). Often extended family members forcefully possessing property and chasing women and children out of their own homes. There is a lack of wills and/ or an understanding of them resulting in loss of inheritance to extended family, again on the basis of “culture”, a lack of knowledge and understanding of the requirement to register customary marriages, resulting in no protection of spousal rights. Lastly, non payment of child support.
What are the most common problems faced by women who migrate to South Africa from other African countries?
All the issues above in my previous answer, coupled with them having no valid legal status or claim to it.
What is the rate of women who succeed in solving their problems after receiving help from Lady Liberty?
We have not yet been able to measure this, but have impacted over 1600 women with the provision of legal information.
Apart from giving information and legal counselling to women about their rights, does Lady Liberty assist women during the trials?
We hope too as soon as we have the resource to increase our staff complement. Currently we are unable to.
Lady Liberty is a flagship project of CSI Boutique, which operates in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility. Companies are more and more sensitive in topics like diversity (that includes gender as well) and equal opportunities for women. Are you finding a good response from companies regarding topics like the ones Lady Liberty deals with?
Not really, most Companies have set their own objectives to meet their business needs and they are not necessarily in line with law, justice, women and children – which is understandable I guess. However, we do ‘sell’ corporates legal wellness packages so that we assist their female staff members who undergo the same legal challenges as our women in townships. Additionally, Lady Liberty is now a registered Non Profit Organisation although it started out as a flagship project of CSI Boutique.
Would you like to tell us a success story of Lady Liberty in helping one or more women to solve a problem related to her/their rights?
A woman once called us in distress as her now ex-husband was taking her to court to finalise their divorce. He has more financial resource and as a result had a team of lawyers on his side and she didn’t! Additionally, he had already threatened to take the house and children away from her. We explained her rights and responsibilities and the entire divorce process including asset distribution, children’s rights etc. She called back a few weeks later to thank us and let us know that because of the information alone, even though she was unrepresented in court, she was able to fight for her rights and lost neither the children nor their home. They were able to reach a fair and amicable sharing of assets because she knew and understood what her rights and responsibilities were.
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