Earlier this year, we asked practitioners about the challenges they faced in 2016 and what the legal empowerment movement needs to thrive. We received responses from members across 60 countries. Below, we outline key findings from the survey results and how they’ve influenced what our network is doing.
The dire reality of these members’ circumstances is reflective of the funding situation for legal empowerment as a whole. As Namati’s CEO, Vivek Maru, states in a recent article in Foreign Policy, “Around the world, there is nominal acceptance of the idea that the law should be accessible to everyone, but very little money is put to that purpose.” On the day the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced, most were accompanied by major financial commitments. On the goal for access to justice, no one pledged a penny. Two years later, the funds needed to advance Goal 16 still have not materialized.
1) A lack of financing continues to stifle legal empowerment work.
Our field continues to face a financing crisis. Over a third of respondents say they will have to make cuts to survive this year. Twenty-six percent reported that they may not be able to operate at all due to funding challenges.
Our network is working to broaden and diversify funding for legal empowerment work globally. We will redouble our efforts to:
We want to build a joint campaign to ensure that legal empowerment advocates are protected and respected. We will share more on that soon.
2) Legal empowerment work has become more difficult over the past year due to changing social and political environments.
The closing of civil society spaces and the rise of authoritarianism and xenophobia has put legal empowerment activists increasingly at risk. Today, two-thirds of our community report that carrying out their work is difficult. Half say that the political environment in their country has worsened in the last year.
In the closing civil society space, the UN Sustainable Development Goals present our community with an unprecedented and critical opportunity to advance domestic justice reforms. Under Goal 16 of the SDGs, governments are committed to delivering access to justice for all by 2030. This recent guide, and the webinar we held to launch it, provide legal empowerment advocates with practical information on how to use the SDGs to advocate for justice reforms at the national level.
3) Members are eager to learn through online resources and in-person events at the regional level.
Our leadership course and learning exchanges were the network’s highest ranked activities of 2016. These opportunities received high marks for offering participants a space to reflect on their work, consult directly with their peers, and learn from veterans in the field. As members call for more, we will continually seek to expand and improve our offerings.
This year’s survey also saw an increase in calls for learning opportunities at the regional level. We plan to establish regional “anchor members” who can foster learning and collaboration among practitioners in their regions. More on this soon as well.
Women’s rights have always been a top priority for our network. Thus far, we’ve held two learning exchanges focused on women’s rights, one in Bangladesh and the other in Tanzania. Collectively, these exchanges brought together 31 practitioners from 16 countries.
4) Women’s Rights are a high priority.
Once again, women’s rights top the list of issues that members would like to see the network address.
Together with participants from these exchanges and other members active in the field, we are developing an online resource guide and a series of webinars focused on women’s rights. We are also exploring strategic partnerships with women’s groups to provide network members with more opportunities to engage with and learn about women’s rights issues. These resources will serve grassroots legal advocates as they combat gender-based violence and promote the rights of women to land, health, education, livelihoods, citizenship, and more.
You may have noticed that you are hearing from us directly and more frequently. That is because we have been busy behind the scenes working to communicate with and support members in a more personal way. We have also been working to upgrade functions across the network website, including improving member profiles and expanding ways for members to provide feedback.
5) It is important that we maintain our sense of community as we grow.
A large majority of members again responded that a sense of community is either “extremely” or “very” important to them. We have taken this to heart and are working to make our network more welcoming, supportive, and vibrant.
Members have been active. The number of posts in our community discussion forum tripled from 2015 to 2016. In order to be more inclusive and encourage conversations between members from different countries and regions, we are currently exploring translation functions across the website and hope to have multiple languages available in the future.
Our network is growing. In 2016, the number of organizations in the network nearly doubled. We added over 1,000 individual members for a total of over 4,000 members to date. But even as our numbers climb, we remain committed to keeping our community strong and close-knit. In the end, our movement for legal empowerment is only as strong as the ties that bind us.
Please reach out to us at [email protected] with any additional ideas about how to strengthen our community – we are listening!
View the full results of the annual survey by clicking here.