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Pan-African network of female lawyers

In many African nations well over 60% of the prison population languish in pre-trial detention. Often too poor to afford a lawyer, women detainees are particularly vulnerable to prolonged detention, gender-based violence (GBV), and other forms of abuse.

Many governments in Africa criminalize reproductive health decisions as well as alleged acts of sex work, adultery, apostacy, blasphemy, and witchcraft, all of which disproportionately impact women. This criminalization of womanhood has vastly increased female incarceration, putting women at heightened risk of abuse and of contracting COVID-19.

At the same time, women lawyers remain a minority across Africa and confront harassment, the glass ceiling, and a basic lack of professional respect from justice sector actors. Bar associations remain overwhelmingly male-dominated and legal networks tailored to women defenders are scarce.

In response to widening justice gaps faced by women across the region, International Bridges to Justice will create the African Access to Justice Women’s Network (AA2J), a dynamic new community of leading female lawyers delivering pro bono defense for women and girls in conflict with the law. AA2J Network members will be supported with training, digital tools, networking opportunities, and small grants to protect the due process rights and dignity of this vulnerable community.

The project is supported with 2 630 000 SEK.

What this project delivers

Ten Fellows will launch local AA2J Women’s Network chapters across Africa leading to the no-cost legal representation of 700 accused women. The project will also create an enabling environment for leadership development among Africa’s women lawyers.

Why we support this project

The AA2J Women’s Network will provide a “shot in the arm” to 10 distinct criminal justice systems across Africa leading not only to the legal protection of vulnerable women, but an invitation to other justice sector actors to alter behaviours and practices in defence of the rule of law.

Project time status


This project started in February 2021 and ended in July 2022

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