Sofia Rais is the director of Droit et Justice (Rights and Justice) which promotes rule of law and reforms to the judicial system in Morocco.
“My first project was helping to set up legal road shows in rural areas. It is great to see the kind of impact we were having, the satisfaction of people who receive something as simple as information.
“Most of the roadshow audiences are illiterate. They have no access to lawyers and no trust in the legal system on any level. Some have been misled by corrupt lawyers. They think that the legal system is corrupt and that only rich people get justice.
“We show them which steps to follow, where to go, the paperwork they need, information on the law in general – the dos and don’ts. In some cases, we also provide free legal representation.
“We do this in extreme cases, like when after a divorce, women are left out begging in the streets and get no support from their former husbands.
“The courts and the legal representation work is mainly in Casablanca, where the courts and lawyers are based, but our outreach is in the regions.
“It’s a new adventure every time with the road shows. We go to a new region, and we don’t know what to expect because the culture can be very different.
“Sometimes there are language barriers because the Berber communities don’t speak Moroccan Arabic.
“So we partner up with local NGOs who help to set up the road show tent and to mobilise local people.
“We air announcements on local radio stations that we are coming: ‘justice roadshow is coming to you this week’. The local partners ask the authorities for permissions, or we do it ourselves. Sometimes the authorities are sceptical: they think we are a foreign organisation. They think we may be talking about politics.
“Usually I’m the only woman. There have been some road shows where I was literally the only woman distributing flyers to hundreds of men.
“Usually the tent is in the souq, the weekly market, where rural people come. They wear traditional clothes: djellabas. They want to come and see what’s in the tent – why is it full? What’s going on? People are full of curiosity. We distribute flyers and explain what’s going on.
“We tell them we come from Casablanca and Rabat. We work without charging them. If they have any legal questions, they can ask us. We say bring your papers from home and we can look with you. Or send them by post.
“One of the best successes I remember was that of an asylum seeker. We were able to get refugee status for her. She’s from sub-Saharan Africa, with four kids. Really, really poor and in desperate need of help. We’ve been able to accompany asylum seekers as trained lawyers and law students and participate as observers during UNHCR interviews. That’s a first in Morocco.
“We’re looking at setting up legal aid clinics for asylum seekers. That would be new in Morocco. A few months ago, the first one was created for women who were the victims of violence. And we’ve been thinking about one for refugees.
“There are so many things to change in our legal system: the procedures, the length of time for a case. We need some transparency. There are so many things that could make a difference in the life of ordinary Moroccans. ”
Lead image: Sofia Rais (Photo: Janet Anderson/Justice Hub)