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The Court of Women - An Alternate Justice System Fighting Gender Violence
By Pallithanam Thomas
Hyderabad, Jul. 14. The  fourth coordination meeting of the Courts of Women took place in the last week of June for East Godavari District in  Andhra Pradesh. More than 60 participants, mostly ICDS workers and NGO volunteers, gathered at Samarlakotta, East Godavari (Andhra Pradesh), to reflect on the rising incidence of violence against women and especially to explore an alternate justice system to address violence against women.
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Courts of Women is an effort by women who have been involved in addressing Gender based violence for over last 40 years. Initiated by Vimochana in Bangalore, the movement has gone international with several countries adopting and adapting the idea to suite their own countries' social realities.

Through the Gender Desk set up in 2008 People's Action for Rural Awakening (PARA) has been addressing the issue of violence against women particularly in the district of East Godavari. PARA's Gender Desk has over 400 cases of violence against women registered with it since its inception.

Initiating the Court of Women programme in the district  Ms. Theresa Achary of Praja Sakti Vidya Sangham, an NGO dedicated to gender justice for the last 35 years, explained that violence cuts across all barriers of caste, creed, status, education, poverty or plenty.

The Courts of Women are an alternative form of justice. The present laws, nay, the entire system of justice is discriminatory towards women. The crimes against women are considered as PRIVATE crimes which do not come under the purview of the law. The law needs witnesses which is impossible for a daughter-in-law to get. The husbands' family stand together against her, isolating her and even preventing her from approaching the law.

The Court of Women gives opportunities to the victims of 'private violence' to bring their sufferings to the public to break the silence by their testimonies.  The very fact of being able to speak to so many people, who are listening sympathetically, reflecting on their own experience of violence brings healing and a sense of fulfilment. It also brings changes in the  listeners as the testimony affects them deeply. A process of reflection starts in the participants.  

The Expert Witnesses at the Courts of Women help to create a greater understanding in the audience by showing the roots of violence and its history of growth. The Jury at the Court of Women give their words of wisdom which go a long way in transforming the individual and society. Various activities around the Courts of Women like counselling, playback theatre, legal clinics  etc.  bring healing and relief to the victim as well as to those present.

The meeting in Samarlakotta was the fourth in a series of workshops to initiate an year long process to seek an alternate system of justice delivery for women victims of violence. It continues to see how as women, as ICDS workers, as people dedicated to the service of women and children, can support this initiative to usher in a culture that abhors violence against women.

The discussions around the issue led the participants plan an year long programme to create awareness on domestic violence,  reach out to victims of violence with empathetic community support, to provide legal assistance, counselling and, if necessary, short term institutional rehabilitation opportunity.

The earlier meetings, from the month of May, were conducted at Ravulapalem, Kakinada and Uppada. 250 women have participated in the programme up to now.

The Court of Women progamme will continue through 2014 reaching out to victims across the district working closely with government departments and networking with other individuals and organisations committed to stopping violence against women.

The programme also intends to reach out to adolescent girls in colleges so that they understand the underpinning of gender violence, are empowered  to resist violence in their own lives and also reach out to victims they encounter.

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