Frequently asked Questions
A few of our most frequently asked questions are listed below – we hope that they’ll answer your query. If your question remains unanswered, please get in touch either by completing our contact form, or calling one of our offices. You can find all of our details here.
Why did you start AdvocAid?
AdvocAid was founded in 2006 by four women involved in human rights and justice sector reform work in Sierra Leone. These women formed the ‘Pademba Road Prison Monitoring Group’, through which they initiated monitoring activities and literacy programs in the women’s section of the country’s main prison.
Through its regular presence in the prison, the group began to understand how women were being systematically marginalised within the prison and legal system. This was mainly due to a lack of legal representation, a lack of knowledge of their rights and a judicial system that did not take women’s specific needs into account.
This led the Monitoring Group to found AdvocAid, an organisation focused on supporting access to justice, education and reintegration for women and children in conflict with the law. Since, AdvocAid has achieved significant successes in relation to providing legal advice and representation, legal education and welfare and reintegration support to detained women and girls.
What does AdvocAid do?
AdvocAid exists to offer holistic legal support to disadvantaged women in Sierra Leone. We do this by providing free legal representation, education, welfare and rehabilitation support as well as post-prison support, providing these women and their children with a stronger future and access to their legal rights within an often unjust system.
As well as providing these short term interventions, we deliver advocacy and law reform campaigns focused on wider issues impacting women in the justice system, ensuring we are changing women’s future prospects in the long term.
We are a small but professional and focused organisation which has made significant achievements since our inception. In our ten years of operation, we delivered a considerable number of programmes and initiated positive change for girls and women in Sierra Leone, including:
- Securing the release of four women from death row through legal appeals or campaigns
- The Government’s commitment to abolish the death penalty and an official moratorium on executions
- A new Legal Aid Act
- A new Correctional Services Act
- Two separate detention facilities for women
- The first prison library in Pademba Road Prison
- Nominated for an Innovating Justice prize for our innovative legal education TV series, Police Case
- Second winner of the Namati Justice Prize in 2015
Since our inception we have supported over 2,300 women with their legal cases, and reached tens of thousands more through our awareness raising campaigns. Find out more about our work through reading these women’s stories.
Why do you only work with women and not men?
AdvocAid was founded in 2006 following the identification of a very real need to support women in Pademba Road prison. We could see how women were being marginalised within prison and the legal system due to lack of representation and knowledge of their rights, coupled with a judicial system that did not take women’s specific needs into account.
Nearly a decade later, women in Sierra Leone still face marginalisation, have fewer rights than men and less access to education and livelihood opportunities.
Within the legal system, we see women regularly abused due to gender, such as police targeting vulnerable women, such as sex workers, to exhort bribes or sex. Couple this with the fact that women across the world make up a minority of the prison population, meaning their needs are most often overlooked. Tragically, most women in detention have a background of physical and emotional abuse or mental health problems.
We focus our energy on women due to these distinct disadvantages they face and abuse they receive due to their gender.
We have also identified a very real need to support women due to their role, often, as mothers. Prison is no place to bring up a baby or young child, yet all too often, they are incarcerated with their mothers. By focussing on women, we can ensure their children receive the support they need as well.
Through our research, reports, advocacy work and campaigns, we work tirelessly to raise awareness about legal and human rightsissues, changes that need making to Sierra Leone’s constitution and training organisations to provide legal information to their clients. Within this, we know that we’re reaching men in need, and affecting positive change for everyone in Sierra Leone.
Why do you work with perpetrators and defend criminals?
AdvocAid’s mission has always been to strengthen access to justice for girls, women and their children. As outlined in Sierra Leone’s constitution, legal assistance and representation is a human right every citizen should have access to and everyone has the right to be presumed innocent. If a person cannot afford legal representation, as very few women in Sierra Leone can, this can undermine their right to a fair trial.
Tragically, too many women in Sierra Leone don’t know their legal rights, and as a consequence can inadvertently plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, whilst illiteracy can lead them to sign confessions they cannot read. AdvocAid has represented countless innocent women that have been locked up for years on end, for crimes they did not commit.
We ensure we listen to every woman’s story and stand by their side throughout their whole police and court process, to ensure they receive their right to legal assistance and a fair trial. For those that are found guilty, we work with prisons to offer better welfare and rehabilitation opportunities to women so they can be better equipped to lead a fuller life upon release.
Do you work outside of Sierra Leone?
Presently, AdvocAid only delivers support within Sierra Leone. We regularly contribute to regional and international reports and research, ensuring our experience can be shared more widely.
If you’re working with women in conflict with the law in another country, we’d love to hear from you to share best practice and potential partnership opportunities. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
How can I work for AdvocAid?
If you’re interested in working for AdvocAid, please take a look at our current vacancies, and we look forward to receiving your application. If there are no vacancies relevant to your experience, please keep an eye out for upcoming opportunities.
We’re always in need of volunteers and interns to support both our legal and programme staff. If you feel you have the ability to help us out, please send an email with your attached CV to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can I apply for a grant from AdvocAid?
AdvocAid is committed to supporting women released from detention to rebuild their lives. As such, part of our ‘post-prison’ support is to provide women with very small start-up grants to ensure they can travel home and purchase food and clothing. We also provide grants to women to support small businesses or vocational training.
These are the only types of grant we distribute.
I am working with a lady in need of legal support. Can you help?
AdvocAid provides support to girls and women in conflict with the law in Sierra Leone. If the lady you’re working with is based in Sierra Leone, then we hope we’ll be able to assist.
I'd like some training - do you run courses?
AdvocAid has in the past delivered training to organisations working with vulnerable women, including sex workers and market traders as well as to groups of women themselves. We have also provided training for the police and prison service. This is always dependent on funding, and we hope to be able to deliver training in partnership with funders in the future.
Please contact us to let us know what you’re interested in, and we can ensure we contact you as and when any courses arise. In the meantime, take a look at our Training and Educational Materials which we hope will be of use.
I'd like to support AdvocAid. How can I get involved?
Thank you very much for your interest in our work – we’re delighted you’d like to help. There are numerous ways you can get involved in supporting AdvocAid, ranging from getting involved in events, making a regular donation, backing our campaigns and informing your friends and family about our work.
I'm a researcher and would like to either interview someone from AdvocAid, or conduct my research with AdvocAid.
We’re always keen to help students and organisations with research connected to women and law in West Africa. We are a very small team with limited resource, but we’d be delighted to help as and where we can. Please get in touch with some additional information, and we look forward to hopefully being able to help.