Women lawyers are set to provide pro bono legal services to female victims of gender-based violence (GBV), particularly rural women who can’t afford legal representation and access to the court system. The offer comes in the wake of rising cases of GBV in the country—categorised into four types— bodily, economic, sexual and psychological gender-based violence. The cases also involved child neglect due to gender, marital rape, sexual violence and harassment of a spouse. Gender-Based Violence (GBV) crimes in Rwanda have risen drastically following the intensified awareness. The week-long exercise, which kicked off on Tuesday, March 9, seeks to help resolve 46 cases of GBV against women in 14 districts. These are part of the 189 GBV cases that were identified in the districts of Huye, Nyaruguru, Rutsiro, Burera, Gisagara, Rusizi, Nyabihu, Kirehe, Nyamasheke, Nyanza, Gicumbi, Ruhango, Karongi and Musanze. “As women lawyers, we have to play a role in triggering amendment of some laws with loopholes depending on emerging problems in society. For instance we provided our views on family and person law,” said Celine Karugu, one of the 26 women lawyers is part of the team that has dedicated a week to provide legal aid to fellow women. The team is also composed of five male lawyers. The exercise also involves raising awareness about the law governing matrimonial regimes, donations and successions and gathering citizens’ views and recommendations on the laws that need to be amended. One of the loopholes in the laws revolve around wealth distribution in case a wife or husband dies, said lawyer Emeline Nyembo. She added that there’s unfairness in wealth sharing in case of divorce. Out of the 1,300 lawyers who are members of the Rwanda Bar Association, 300 are female. Strengthening mediation Lawyer Ghislaine Niyongira said that women are also part of the mediation system, an alternative dispute resolution system. “Besides providing legal aid and defence, we are also part of a task force to promote mediation rather than letting cases go in courts. By giving assistance to GBV victims, we will also try this system of mediation. This saves money, time and conflicts among the people,” she said. The legal assistance and mediation come at the time the judicial systems faces a backlog of 52,950 cases in courts. Of those, more than 25,350 cases filed in 2019/20 had been pending for over six months compared to 13,000 in the previous year. The rise in the backlog is attributed to the Covid-19 outbreak, which halted court business. In a bid to expedite the resolution of disputes, litigants have been encouraged to opt for pretrial conference and mediation.