In 2011, *Grace and her husband George began divorce proceedings in the remote town of Bor in Liberia’s rural Grand Bassa County. Grace was facing a bleak financial future; George had claimed full rights to the small rubber farm that had been their main source of income even though they had planted the farm together during their marriage.
Women in rural Liberia are often unaware that Liberian divorce law grants them the right to half of all property amassed during marriage. Even if they know about the law, many women are deterred by the high costs and social stigma associated with taking a case to formal courts. As a result, most seek rulings from male-dominated traditional courts or negotiate directly with their former husbands. As a result, many settle for less than they are entitled to.
Fortunately for Grace, there was another option: she could take her case to Arthur, her local community legal advisor.
Through a USAID-funded program jointly implemented by the Carter Center and Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Arthur receives regular training and mentoring on the law and alternative dispute resolution techniques. Using a project-provided motorcycle, he makes regular visits to Bor to conduct community awareness sessions on the law and provides free assistance to people needing help resolving disputes.
Arthur explained to Grace what she was entitled to under Liberian divorce law and her options for moving forward. Grace and George decided to engage in mediation efforts outside of court with Arthur’s help. Arthur facilitated meetings between them and, once negotiations appeared to stall, he engaged community elders to encourage George to adhere to the law. George became more willing to reconcile and eventually agreed to divide the rubber farm.
Grace’s case was just one of over 1,500 cases that community legal advisors facilitated in 2011. With support from USAID, the Carter Center and Catholic Justice and Peace Commission now support 45 community legal advisors like Arthur in seven counties around Liberia. Approximately half of all cases involve female clients. Through this program, USAID is helping to make the rule of law a reality for ordinary Liberians, often for the first time.
*All names changed for privacy purposes
Last updated: August 14, 2012