(This post can be translated into your preferred language by clicking on the globe icon at the bottom of the post - Debajo se encuentra el post con la nota completa en Español)
In cities around the world, large segments of the urban population are trapped in poorly planned, overcrowded informal settlements, which suffer from unsanitary conditions and poor access to basic services. These long-standing challenges of the urban poor risk becoming all the more pronounced in the decades to come, with rapid waves of urbanization the world over. How then to address the socio-economic exclusion and poverty faced by the urban poor? What role for legal empowerment and other strategies to promote their basic human rights?
This Note – Legal Empowerment in Informal Settlements Lessons, IDRC (June 2018).pdf (884.5 KB) – outlines shared learning from a group of organizations and research projects supported by the International Development Research Centre, Canada. In different ways, these organizations are working with informal settlement communities in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Kenya, and Ghana and also Nigeria, in an effort to help residents identify solutions to improve living conditions and access to justice.
In March 2018, members of these organizations met in Quito, Ecuador, to discuss several common challenges and approaches from their ongoing support to informal settlement communities. This Note captures main lessons learned from across the countries. Although the different organizations operate in distinct contexts, there were nonetheless valuable shared lessons cutting across regions and countries on the following topics:
Challenges and strategies for improving participation and voice of informal settlement residents in planning processes, service-delivery;
The use of legal tools and strategies (e.g. litigation, rights awareness and mobilization);
Strategies for public advocacy, and mobilizing collective action of residents for positive change
The economic dimensions of delivering on the rights of residents
Those topics provide a valuable starting point for deepening knowledge on how legal empowerment can help to confront urban poverty and exclusion, especially in informal settlements. The need to be well-attuned to dynamics in communities and with public officials, and to tailor interventions accordingly emerges clearly across all those themes. Legal empowerment organizations have a strong potential to act as trusted intermediaries, though what mix of interventions and roles to play and when, how to ensure voice of all residents and avoid new risks for residents is by no means obvious and requires constant interrogation.
There were several outstanding topics however that the discussions failed to touch on, or emerged for future investigation. They include the role of and how best to promote women’s and youth participation; the perpetual challenge of land and property rights; how various challenges play out and can be confronted in secondary cities; how usefully to define questions of going to scale or impacts targeted by interventions; and the potential use of social media and new technologies to support ongoing efforts.
Do the lessons from this Note ring true? Anything you wish to add or challenge? Any guidance on lessons on some of the outstanding topics? Any topics you wish to add? Please share your perspectives in what we hope to be a lively start to a longer conversation!