SEA Legal Empowerment Network members journey in 2021

Looking back at the year 2021, it has marked a remarkable journey of growth for our members in South East Asia (SEA). We have strengthened our network engagement, enhanced knowledge and capacity by building on each other’s experiences through sharing challenges and recommendations. These are our key highlights.

In the first quarter of the year, we have identified two major areas of concerns: 1) Covid 19 and 2) Shrinking civic space that have deeply impacted legal empowerment work in SEA countries. Our regional anchor, Alternative Law Groups (ALG) conducted surveys on these two topics with respondents from all over SEA. The COVID-19 pandemic focused survey aimed to collect relevant information on how legal empowerment work and strategies have been continued during the pandemic and how the work has been affected by pandemic related restrictions and regulations. The civic space survey, on the other hand, aimed to collect information on how the shrinking of space available for civil society, activists and citizens has affected and restricted legal empowerment work and strategies in the regions.

With insights from the survey, we hosted two major learning sessions at the 10th Asia Pro Bono Virtual Conference & Access to Justice Exchange together with members from Africa and South Asia. During the sessions, we discussed innovative approaches and strategies to cope with the current crisis on Covid 19 and shrinking civic space. In both discussions, we learned about the strength of community paralegals who act as a linkage between grassroots communities and legal empowerment organizations during difficult times. Community empowerment is also becoming more important than ever when security is a major issue and awareness of one’s right is the essential first step to make sustainable progress in addressing justice issues.

With the objective of deepening our discussions on specific thematic issues that our members focus on, we have started our first three thematic subgroups for our network: 1) Land and Environmental Justice, 2) Gender Justice and 3) Citizenship and Refugee Right. We held discussions with the three subgroups based on the respective themes to create a more specialized venue for members’ sharing. For 2022, we are looking forward to expanding our discussion space and identifying thematic focuses for learning.

The year 2021 has been a democratically challenging year. For Myanmar, the repression has become more challenging since the country wide crisis in February 2021. Our members from SEA issued the Solidarity Statement on Myanmar to express concern and stand for the democracy of the country.

For our advocacy growth, we continued to support national or local activities to create awareness and participation on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in the monitoring of different countries’ progress in achieving the goals, in particular SDG 16 on justice. As a continuation of the SDG localization initiative that started in 2020, a draft monitoring tool was developed in 2021 to help members monitor and assess SDG 16 in their respective countries. The tool will be used this year in at least four countries.

We want to thank everyone for your continuous contribution and engagement with our activities in SEA. Solidarity has become more important than ever to advance our common goals and we hope to continue our endeavor with everyone this year 2022.