Gender Justice Agenda for the Legal Empowerment Network: Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Meeting

On Thursday, 9th February 2023, Network members FIDA Uganda and Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative led a virtual discussion on regional priorities for learning, collective action and community-building in the area of gender justice and women’s rights. The meeting provided a clear indication of priorities for Sub-Saharan African organisations, from all corners of the continent, that will be taken into consideration as we continue to develop a gender justice strategy for the Legal Empowerment Network.

The key points arising from the regional calls in Latin America and South East Asia will also serve to inform the process of the development of a gender justice strategy for the Network. We will share more information on the final strategy and how organisations within the Network can be involved in its implementation, following the convening of the Gender Justice Core Group at the end of March 2023.

A few key priorities and areas for learning and collective action emerged from the discussion.

1. Innovation and cross-learning to address GBV

Gender-Based Violence is a central priority for organisations that work on gender justice. Organisations wish to learn from one another on innovative ways and best practices for making referral pathways accessible and addressing GBV at the local community level. For example, organisations in the region can learn from Women Safe House Sustenance Initiative’s paralegal-led local response centres for women facing violence. There are also lessons to learn from experiences in the involvement of men and boys in addressing GBV. Organisations also wish to learn best practices in terms of how paralegals are trained, managed and funded and how they support survivors of violence.

2. The impact of climate change on women’s land rights: an opportunity for learning and collective advocacy

Key to the discussion on Gender Justice is the issue of women’s access to and control over land. Many of the organisations in the group shared that the issue of women’s land rights is one of their key priorities since it is closely linked to women’s economic independence and levels of vulnerability to intimate partner violence. gendered impact of climate change on land rights is also a strongly emerging theme among Network members. Organisations wish to learn from one another on how to document the impact of climate change on women’s land rights and how to harness tools such as the ESG framework in advocacy and awareness raising on this issue. There is need to shift norms at the community level where traditional practices regarding women’s land use and ownership do not align with the progressive laws which most African countries have adopted in this regard. Organisations expressed the need for collective advocacy on the recognition and protection of women’s land rights at the regional level, particularly in terms of implementing existing land and environmental laws.

3. Building community power to break barriers preventing access to justice

Community paralegals remain the primary vehicle of justice for women in rural areas where access to lawyers is almost non-existent. Community paralegals are also able to bridge many of the gaps within the justice system, such as the very long time that it takes for cases to be heard and disposed of in many of the jurisdictions in the region. Network members shared that they would like to learn from one another about best practices for training and support community paralegals. There is need for collective advocacy to address the accepted practice within the donor landscape that community paralegals need not be facilitated for their work in any significant way.

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