The 7th Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE) conference is currently taking place in Delhi India. GAJE includes teachers in law schools and professional practice teachers from around the world.
One of the most interesting workshops I attended at the conference focused on ‘women’s courts’. These are a form of dispute resolution system where groups of ‘Dalit’ women sit in groups of 12-14 and decide the disputes which community women bring to them. The non government organization (NGO) which has promoted this development is called, Vikalp and works in Gujarat state as well as in some of the other states in India. The women who use the courts bring disputes about family break up, domestic violence, work issues and neighbour disputes to the court.
Clinical legal education students from various law schools in India and the USA have supported the NGO do its work through projects such as developing resources for the NGO. The students then have the amazing opportunity to observe the women’s courts in action, sitting under a tree in the open air, in local communities. The community women are trained in and practice some basic legal principles and processes, including summoning the person, frequently a husband, to the court. While the system is outside the formal legal system, both parties attend and the final decisions of the women’s courts carry weight in the local community.
What a great way to teach law and how an informal legal system can be adequate for resolving disputes the way women want them resolved.
By Anna Cody