Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic created new injustices and made many existing ones worse. Problems facing grassroots justice organizations were exacerbated over this time, but members of the Legal Empowerment Network have persevered. We asked members, as we do every year, to tell us your concerns and help define our collective path forward. Now we are sharing the major highlights – find the full survey results here.
The Network is growing!
We grew to over 10,000 individual members and more than 2,500 organizations in 2021! We already grew to more than 11,000 individuals recently, and are set to surpass 3,000 organizations later this year. As individuals, we are now spread across 177 countries globally and continue to be a force to be reckoned with.
Despite some success, financing and protection issues continue
For many years now, financing has been the top concern for most legal empowerment organizations. The number of members who either have to make cuts to operate or may not be able to operate due to lack of funds has kept rising with 2021 affecting nearly 80% of the respondents.
In 2020, we launched the COVID-19 Grassroots Justice Fund and achieved its goal of fundraising US $1 million for rapid-response, flexible grants that were provided to 60 member organizations in 38 countries. This year, we have also co-launched the Legal Empowerment Fund, which will distribute millions in long-term core funding to grassroots justice groups across the globe over many years to come. While our efforts to address these concerns have been successful, there is still a long way to go, and we will continue to focus on financing into the future.
Besides funding, members felt the impact of receding democratic spaces. 74% of members struggled to do legal empowerment work in their political and social contexts, and 50% said they or someone they know have been threatened, arrested or harassed pursuing justice in the last year. This marks yet another increase compared to the 2019 record.
In addition, members also mentioned the lack of access to technology and limited digital capacity making it harder for them to engage online. Vaccine equity is also another major concern especially for marginalized populations who are increasingly excluded due to discrimination and socio-economic status. Due to the existing digital divide and discrimination in our society, the impact of pandemic has been felt more deeply in many communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped civic space and heavily impacted issues of security and protection. We are planning a course on protection of grassroots justice defenders within the next year. As we follow the journey of empowerment with our members, solidarity with others in the network helps to keep us united and strong in advancing our common values and sustaining results.
As we continue to grow and face new challenges, we learn what works along the way
On a positive note, Network activities and efforts are having an impact! Members shared incredible stories with us on how they gain new knowledge and skills, as well as how the network has helped improve their organization’s work and deepened their impact on the community. Our survey shows that we feel like a part of a community within the network and the network is becoming a relevant part to our collective journey towards legal empowerment.
For the second consecutive year, members wanted us to prioritize community organizing & empowerment and training and support to community paralegals. We also continue to see interest in the areas of women’s rights and land and environmental justice for learning opportunities.
And we’re listening – after holding the first Legal Empowerment Leadership Course virtually, we are in the process of building virtual courses on the topics that matter most to members to complement in-person learning opportunities. We are excited to launch virtual courses on a number of topics by the end of this year to expand learning opportunities across the network.
Read more about the results of our annual member survey HERE, and stay tuned for more information about upcoming courses, our 10th anniversary, and more soon.