Gender Justice During and Beyond the COVID-19 Crisis: The Role of Legal Empowerment Groups in Sub-Saharan Africa

On 9th September 2021, civil society organizations working towards justice for women in Africa joined together for part 2 of the launch of the report and study “Gender Justice During and Beyond the COVID-19 Crisis: The role of legal empowerment groups in Sub-Saharan Africa’’.

Video recording:

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.

While part 1 of the launch created a space for civil society organizations working in Africa to reflect on the relevance of the study findings in respect of their own contexts and experiences, part 2 was structured as a learning and advocacy workshop. Organizations from across the continent shared the areas where they would wish to learn and receive support in order to improve Legal Empowerment interventions to respond to gender injustice in times of crisis. Organizations also shared their areas of strength in terms of legal empowerment work which they could teach to others. A number of challenges faces by organizations in their gender justice work that could be addressed through advocacy at regional level were also identified and flagged for collective action.

Cross-learning among African organizations and legal empowerment groups

Civil society organizations working towards justice for women in Africa share similar experiences in terms of many of their challenges and contextual factors determining the success of legal empowerment efforts during the pandemic. However, innovations and solutions developed and employed during the lockdown display a variety of strengths and strategies. Organizations can learn from one another in terms of strengthening work with community paralegals, particularly in order to share training strategies that will enhance the capacity of community paralegals to act as first-level responders in cases of GBV and to comprehensively document cases that can be used to advocate for changes in laws and practice.

Collective action for advocacy at the regional level

There is room for collective action by civil society organizations in Africa to overcome shared challenges and to strengthen the impact of legal empowerment in addressing gender-based violence. Organizations can join together in order to advocate for the formalization of recognition of paralegals and the work that they do at the regional level. There is also room for joint advocacy at the regional level for increased state resource allocations toward gender justice efforts within African states and state support for essential services to GBV survivors, ahead of the next humanitarian crisis.