On 2nd September 2021, civil society organizations working towards justice for women came together for part 1 of the launch of “Gender Justice During and Beyond the COVID-19 Crisis: The role of legal empowerment groups in Sub-Saharan Africa” report and study.
This report is a joint effort of members of the Legal Empowerment Network. Organizations from 19 counties around the world, mapped, discussed, analyzed, and documented the experiences of practitioners to address gender based violence under the shadow of COVID-19. The study looks into challenges faced, innovative legal empowerment approaches & community-centered interventions that worked, and what could be changed in terms of policy as we build back better, to ensure that women facing violence are supported during and after the pandemic.
It also aims to contribute to a broader learning agenda for the legal empowerment field - one that generates real-time lessons capable of strengthening efforts to defend rights, shift power imbalances, ensure a just recovery after the pandemic, and drive systemic change across our societies.
3 Key Takeaways:
Participating organizations shared that they faced many difficulties in adapting to online working methods in their grassroots justice work. For women facing violence in rural areas, phone access cannot be taken for granted: women often do not have their own phones, access to private spaces to make calls or the use of a reliable network and electricity supply. What is more, women facing violence prefer in-person counselling and a human touch to the support services they seek. We are challenged to keep asking questions about the inclusiveness of online approaches and to adopt working methods which meet communities where they are. One such approach was a door-to-door campaign undertaken among 11,500 residents of the Diepsloot Community by Lawyers Against Abuse in order to share information about available GBV services during the lockdown. Another inclusive approach was the establishment of community booths in rural parts of Nigeria, which enabled women to report cases of GBV at their local salon or grocery shop, as shared by Wuaroluwa Ayodele from Women Safe House Sustenance Initiative.
‘Everything is on a lockdown, but injustice is not on a lockdown’
– Aimee Ongeso, Legal Empowerment Network
The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it new challenges to service provision and support to women facing GBV. The work of grassroots justice defenders was greatly affected by the closure of courts, the preoccupation of police with enforcement of lockdown measures and the unavailability of shelters. Flexible funding gave legal empowerment groups space to react responsibly and creatively. From meeting simple but crucial needs such as Personal Protective Equipment for field staff, to the approval of major changes to programmatic approaches and methods, donor flexibility is an important determining factor of the impact of an organization during the pandemic.
Across the board, the presence of community-based actors on the ground made all the difference to a grassroots GBV response during times of hard lockdown and crisis. These community-based actors do the important work of building trust and legitimacy within communities over a long period of time. In times of crisis and change, they are ready to step up and attend to the justice needs of communities. They are trusted to guide communities around new ways of connecting with duty-bearers and navigating justice systems under changed circumstances.