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Navigating the civil justice needs of Malawian women: The tensions between the formal and informal justice systems
(The Gender and Justice Unit)
Paper long abstract:
A 2019 study conducted for the Gender and Justice Unit (GJU) explored civil justice needs of women and girls in rural and peri-urban settings of Lilongwe using Lumbadzi, Chitipi and Chigwirizano as research sites. The baseline study explored civil justice needs of women and girls through the voices of the women themselves as well as those of civil justice service providers. The research showed that the civil justice needs of women in all the three locations were similar with very slight variations. Most of the needs cited revolved around access to or lack thereof of civil justice services on issues such as child support, gender-based violence, land and financial disputes. The results revealed that there is an unmet need for women's civil justice services in all the three locations. The participants highlighted that traditional leaders (chiefs) and the police are the primary service providers for the civil issues cited above at all the sites. This despite their limited or non-existent authority to handle civil justice issues. The study and findings speak to the ongoing tensions that exist between the formal and informal justice mechanisms in Malawi, and particularly how women's justice needs are underserved often times as a result of these tensions. This article uses the research findings to explore and articulate the manner in which civil justice laws and processes exclude women's nearest service providers - the traditional leaders and the police. These ongoing divisions between the formal and the informal leave women at a loss for justice solutions.
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