Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) organised a virtual workshop focusing on the importance of legal aid services and digital technology in reaching the national legal aid offices by the victims all over the country during the Covid pandemic. The workshop, “Role of legal aid officers to address violence against women during Covid and beyond”, organised in association with National Legal Aid Services Organizations (NLASO) on 11 September 2021.
Digital technology has played a massive role in reaching the national legal aid offices in various districts during the pandemic came out from the event. Victims of violence, especially women, took to Facebook, Messenger, Imo, Whats App and hotline numbers, to reach out to the officers in districts during the Covid-19 lockdown. However, it was also revealed in the workshop that poor internet connectivity, lack of smartphones and internet literacy, high price of mobile data, lack of proper guidelines, ignorance of the laws, absence of upazila and union legal aid offices have also worked as major challenges during this period.
One of the participant, Md Kudrat-E Khuda, District legal aid officer of Kurigram District, said the number of domestic violence applications doubled during the pandemic. From May to September this year (2021), Kurigram District legal aid office received 718 applications, of whom 67.5 percent were female applicants. The number of applications related to domestic violence was 141 and dowry related cases were 131. Another Legal aid officer from Cumilla, Begum Farhana Lokman, mentioned along with digital technology, they have worked on creating a suitable environment for women to come with their issues and established separate space for them and a breastfeeding corner.
Honorable Justice M Enayetur Rahim, High Court Division, Bangladesh Supreme Court & Chairperson, Supreme Court Legal Aid Committee was the Chief Guest of the event when Md Saiful Islam, Senior District and Sessions Judge & Director, National Legal Aid Services Organization was present as Special Guest. Shaheen Anam, executive director of MJF, chaired the event.
Chief Guest drew the attention of the Director of the National Legal Aid Office to work on increasing the use of digital technology in providing assistance to victims. He said, “This will not be possible overnight, but we have to take the initiative slowly. There are so many NGOs, which can also assist us.” Executive Director of MJF said introducing legal aid offices was a momentous initiative of the government and that, in the past 10 years, funds have been utilized well in terms of providing legal aid to marginalized women victims of violence. Md Fahad bin Amin Chowdhury, Legal aid officer of Laxmipur, Md Abul Mansur Siddique, Legal aid officer of Bandarban, and MJF’s Program Coordinator, Ruma Sultana, among others, spoke at the event.