[Featured Resource] Legal empowerment approaches in the context of COVID-19

This month’s featured resource is Legal empowerment approaches in the context of COVID-19 by Network members Sukti Dhital (@suktidhital) and Tyler Walton, from the Bernstein Institute for Human Rights at NYU School of Law, featuring the work of Network members Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) (@SebastianPilo, @felipemesel, @pablovitale), Nazdeek (@francescaferuglio, @ShreyaSen), and Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) (@AntonioGutierrez).

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered chaos across the globe, with governments struggling to reduce the spread of the virus amid rising challenges to human rights (Human Rights Watch 2020). Emerging data reveal the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the historically marginalized communities of black and brown people, Dalits and indigenous peoples, women, and people with disabilities (Devakumar, Bhopal, and Shannon 2020). These disparities are fueled by structural inequalities that deny people their human rights, including a right to access justice. In 2019, a staggering 5.1 billion people were found to lack meaningful access to justice (Taskforce on Justice 2019). COVID-19 exacerbates this justice gap, with marginalized communities experi- encing a pandemic within a pandemic of inequality and oppression.

In the midst of this devastating challenge, a grassroots approach to justice offers hope. Legal empowerment—a rights-based methodology that centers people in their own fight for justice— creates opportunities for people to “know, use, and shape” the laws that impact their lives (Satterthwaite forthcoming). These methods are a form of community immunity against injustice—parallel to the sought-after herd immunity to COVID-19 (Kwok, Lai, Wei, Wong, and Tang 2020).

More about Legal empowerment approaches in the context of COVID-19 :

In this article, we seek to understand how legal empowerment approaches to tackle injustice during COVID-19 may yield lasting insights for human rights scholars and practitioners. We open with a background on legal empowerment and human rights. Next, we explore the concepts of translation, trust, and transformation through three case studies carried out during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, with informal settlement communities in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in New Delhi, India, and among undocumented communities in Chicago, the United States. The case studies are based on in-depth interviews2 with members of three legal empowerment organi- zations and analysis of their resources: the Asociacion Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) in Argentina, Nazdeek in India, and Organized Communities Against Deportation (OCAD) in Chicago. The case studies reveal that in both ethos and practice, the organizations remain rooted to acts of translation, trust, and transformation as essential drivers for building grassroots power and advancing justice.

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The Featured Resource is a short profile of a key resource found in the resource library of the Legal Empowerment Network. These resources can be older or brand new, but they all touch on important themes within legal empowerment. If you have a resource you would like to profile with the network, upload it directly at this link or email it to [email protected]