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|Hayley Matthews • 2/27/17|
The Short Version: Not everyone can get out of an abusive relationship on their own. The decision to leave can be complicated due to immigration status, parental custody, and other legal matters. In such times of crisis, women need a support system to talk them through their options and fight for their best interests. Rights of Women throws a lifeline to women in England and Wales with an all-woman legal team committed to pursuing justice in the courts. They offer free and confidential advice on family law, criminal law, immigration and asylum law, and women’s rights in England and Wales. Victims of rape and domestic violence can call in anonymously to understand what their legal rights are and how to avail themselves of the legal system.
After eight years of marriage, Fatima could not take her husband’s abuse any longer. Jon had come home reeking of alcohol and punched her in the stomach while their two children watched. She had to get out. She fled to a women’s refuge, taking her 3-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son with her.
Upon hearing of her situation, the refuge gave her the telephone number of a legal advice helpline provided by Rights of Women. Fatima wasn’t sure what to do next, so she called the number. In a free consultation, an adviser explained how a non-molestation order and an occupation order could protect her and her children from Jon.
“Rights of Women told me my rights and gave me the confidence to represent myself in court,” she said, “something which I never thought possible.”
At a time when Fatima felt desperate and frightened, Rights of Women empowered her to avail herself of the legal system and get safely out of an abusive relationship. Rights of Women is a charitable organization in the U.K. created by women, for women. Since 1975, their legal advice has served thousands of women during some of their darkest moments and given them legal recourse to protect themselves from violence and oppression.
RightsofWomen.org.uk promotes justice for women through informative legal aid and equality campaigns. Their telephone service for women offers a safe space for victims of violence, rape, and oppression. Women can use the advocacy group’s resources to learn about their rights in family law, criminal law, and immigration and asylum law.
Among the organization’s founding tenets is that free information enables women to leave violent relationships and shield themselves and their children from further abuse. In the words of the Rights of Women website: “We believe that women need this advice and information to enable them to make safe and informed choices for themselves and their families.”
In 1975, when the Women’s Liberation Movement was in full swing, several impassioned legal workers banded together to create Rights of Women as a means of fighting for justice under the law in England and Wales. They formed a legal advice helpline to assist women battling discrimination or violence. Their pioneering enterprise was the first and only feminist legal project in the United Kingdom.
“A group of women legal workers founded the organization to help women find their way around the many man-made laws that affected them,” according to the site’s herstory. “Over 40 years, our services have developed and provided many thousands of women with free legal advice and information.”
Today, the organization’s legal experts deftly advise callers on many sensitive matters, including sexual violence and immigration status.
In 2015, Rights of Women’s legal helpline advised a total of 1,909 callers “on their legal rights in relation to family law, sexual violence and immigration and asylum law.” Another 1,601 women called in for advice about family law issues, which include relationship breakdowns, domestic violence, and children’s issues.
Rights of Women, an organization built by activist women tired of the status quo, has an energetic passion that fills the staff with a can-do attitude. Dozens of compassionate legal workers, office managers, and volunteers dedicate themselves to helping women avail themselves of the courts and get justice for themselves and their families.
“I feel as a professional woman that we all have a duty to lend a helping hand to those who need it when they are feeling frightened, vulnerable, or just completely overwhelmed,” said Lorraine, a Family Law Solicitor and Volunteer Legal Adviser for Rights of Women. “They also provide some very good chocolate and treats!”
Beyond the call desk, Rights of Women campaigns for proper legal aid for women and lobbies Parliamentarians to look out for the rights of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other abuses.
“Nearly half of women take no action in relation to their family law problem,” according to their Campaign With Us page, “as a result of not being able to apply for legal aid, leaving them unable to escape from violent relationships.” From amending laws to briefing government officials, the organization plays an active role in giving women swift access to the legal counsel they need and deserve.
The Office for National Statistics reported that 1.4 million British and Welsh women suffered domestic abuse in 2015, and 4.9 million women had experienced some form of domestic abuse after the age of 16. The most common types of intimate violence on women included non-sexual partner abuse (22%), stalking (21%), and sexual assault (20%).
Rights of Women finds these statistics unacceptable and campaigns to end violence against women. “For us, addressing violence against women is a vital part of ensuring that women achieve equality,” reads the Rights of Women website. “Women affected by violence urgently need legal advice and information to understand their legal rights.”
Additionally, Rights of Women is a proud member of the Women’s Asylum Charter, a coalition calling for the U.K.’s asylum system to better address inequalities for women fleeing persecution and violence overseas. Looking out for victims of trauma the world over, Rights of Women fights on behalf of women of all backgrounds and creeds.
Rights of Women offers practical and engaging training for professionals who work with women. Their hands-on events include training courses, seminars, workshops, and conferences focused on doling out the best legal advice for a variety of trying circumstances for women and families.
Knowledgeable experts offer case studies, presentations, and activities to give participants a full understanding of the legal rights and remedies available to women in England and Wales. According to the website: “Our trainers are experienced, specialist women solicitors or barristers with expertise in family, criminal, or immigration and asylum law.”
“I love attending Rights of Women training as they are always so informative – in a way that I understand – no jargon! Even the complexities of law are delivered in a way that everyone can understand.” — A participant in Rights of Women’s trainings
Rights of Women gives professionals the tools and the knowledge to better assist women in need. Advocates, legal workers, and other professionals draw many day-to-day tips from these resources on how the law can serve the interests of victims of domestic violence, refugees, rape victims, and other special cases involving women’s rights. Through the organization’s support, practitioners grow their influence in the field and improve the lives of women in England and Wales.
According to the 2015 Annual Report, Rights of Women has “delivered training and events on law and policy developments affecting women to over 400 professionals throughout England and Wales.”
Rights of Women offers a support system for women in England and Wales. Their motto is “helping women through the law,” and the organization certainly lives up to those words with comprehensive resources and progressive campaigns. Most notably, their call-in line gives women easy access to legal counsel so victims of violence or oppression, like Fatima, can stand up for themselves using legal solutions.
Whether they’re looking for justice after sexual assault or seeking safety for their families, thousands of women with sensitive issues can depend on Rights of Women for legal guidance. Campaigning for women’s rights, this feminist organization pushes an agenda of female empowerment via the law.
“The law is complex and confusing. We want to make sure that, at some of the most difficult times in their lives, women are able to talk to a woman lawyer who can give them expert and non-judgmental legal advice,” reads the Rights for Women’s annual report. “Without this advice and information, women will continue to experience violence, abuse, and discrimination and cannot play an equal role in society.”