Colleagues and I recently conducted a qualitative survey of poor women in Jordan to further the understanding of justice as a dimension of poverty. These women had experienced legal problems involving family law matters and sought assistance from the Justice Center for Legal Aid (JCLA), a Jordanian civil society organization that provides legal aid services to the poor.

The female beneficiaries surveyed had many similar characteristics that could cause or perpetuate poverty. These included:

  • Early marriage, with the husband usually considerably older
  • Engagement or marriage acting as triggers for dropping out of education or employment, usually at the insistence of a husband or fiancé
  • Lack of education/employment led to unpaid household work for extended families
  • Limited power in intra-household decisionmaking
  • Husbands with untreated substance abuse (alcohol and drugs) problems
  • Learning about legal aid services via word of mouth, suggesting channels of information are limited

These women also faced multiple legal problems, as is frequently the case for the poor and near poor. These included divorce, alimony, child support, access to dower, domestic violence, and access to civil documents (marriage certificates, birth certificates, and family books).

The survey produced interesting findings in three areas: access to economic assets, domestic violence, and the role of legal aid services.

For the poor women that participated in the survey, legal problems and limited access to justice constituted a dimension of their poverty. The inability to enforce judicial decisions awarding alimony, child support, and dowers created financial hardship in the women’s households, possibly undermining the longer-term prospects for themselves and their children. Lack of access to civil documents prevented women from enrolling their children in school or seeking medical services.  Domestic violence undermined their human development and agency.

Read the full article about making poor women less vulnerable by Paul Prettitore at Brookings.