I have recently been reading stories from the field and condensing versions for the IBJ website. Though from different parts of the world, the common theme is that there was an arrest and detainment, and that IBJ lawyers secure bail and eventual release of individuals. The stories mainly feature problems unique to women, such as human trafficking, arrests for having extra-marital affairs, and arrests for the action of the husbands.
One story that I found particularly moving was from Rwanda. A woman, working as a maid for a wealthy but cruel family, was regularly raped by the husband while the wife was away. During these episodes, the husband would promise the maid a certain amount of money each time. When the wife found about, she fired the maid, and when the maid was leaving, she took the amount of money that had been promised to her by the husband. When the couple realized the money was missing, they denounced the maid to the police, and she was arrested. An IBJ lawyer represented the maid and demonstrated that she had been abused and exploited, and that the money was ultimately owed to her. The maid was released after five days in detention and returned to her two children.
During the Spring, I read The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré. It is an incredibly moving story about a young lady in Nigeria who escapes life as a child bride to work as a maid in a large city. The family she works for ends up being cruel as well, and the protagonist experiences a similar situation as the maid from IBJ’s Rwanda case. Eventually, the protagonist finds an ally in a family friend, who helps her secure a scholarship to a school and she finds her voice. The book is heartbreaking, inspirational and eye-opening. I highly recommend it for everyone.
The similarities between the story I read out of Rwanda and The Girl with the Louding Voice were striking. When thinking about legal problems facing women in international justice systems, I typically went right to human trafficking, gender-based violence, and illegitimate arrests based on factors out of their control. It is alarming to think about the vulnerability to abuse that women face in legitimate work places as well. These stories, fiction and actual, have opened my eyes to yet another injustice that women must face in the world. Legal systems everywhere must do better to protect vulnerable women rather than punish the abused.