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Incorrect assumptions about the informal sector

Last edited: December 20, 2011

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Programmes designed to engage with the informal justice sector are at particular risk of perpetuating assumptions that may not be based on facts. For example, it is often assumed that informal systems are quicker, cheaper, and more accessible. This is not always the case. Users of informal mechanisms may simply assume that they have no other choice. It is important to note that informal mechanisms often pose great danger to women and girl victims of violence.

Also, justice reform advocates and users of informal justice mechanisms may assume that they are more traditional or more grounded in culture than other mechanisms. This assumption can perpetuate harmful practices based on myths as opposed to facts.

Informal justice mechanisms are diverse. A blanket assumption that users choose these systems because they are cheaper or quicker may miss other important reasons that people use these systems. While some mechanisms may provide an option for a community that is cheaper and quicker, others may actually be just as costly for users as the formal system and may take just as much time to reach a resolution. A preference for informal justice mechanisms may reflect women’s sense that they have no other options. If the goal of a programme is to change the way people use justice mechanisms or make another mechanism more accessible, it is important not to assume that cost or time is the overriding consideration.

Thinking of informal mechanisms as traditional or based in longstanding cultural frameworks (and are therefore preferable) is an assumption that is also made by users and practitioners. This may be true for some informal mechanisms, but often, informal mechanisms that are practiced by a particular religious or ethnic community have in fact changed substantially over time and may operate very differently from a mechanism that operated in the past. It is important for programme planners to challenge these assumptions, especially when they are used to perpetuate practices that violate women’s human right to be free from violence. Practitioners should be prepared for long-term engagement and look for emerging openings for change.