On World Social Justice Day, Namati and the Global Legal Empowerment Network came together with justice defenders from around the world to announce and celebrate the winners of the biennial Grassroots Justice Prize.
We first launched the competition in 2015 to shine a spotlight on great deeds in the field of legal empowerment. In 2017, the competition returned bigger and better than before with three prizes of US$10,000 each — one for innovation, one for courage, and one for scale and sustainability.
The competition opened in late October. Nearly 200 legal empowerment organizations from across the globe applied. Together, these applicants are tackling a wide array of justice challenges by helping people to know, use, and shape the law: from helping women, children, and families in India live lives free from violence, abuse, and exploitation, to working to decriminalize minor offenses in Malawi that target marginalized groups such as sex workers and the homeless.
Selecting a winner from this inspiring pool of candidates was difficult. A panel of judges consisting of leaders and visionaries in the field of legal empowerment narrowed it down to ten finalists for each prize. The #WalkTogether Prize for Courage was then opened to a public vote. The prizes for innovation and scale and sustainability were determined, after much deliberation, by the judges.
The winners are as follows.
The Achmed Dean Sesay Memorial Prize for Innovation
In honor of Achmed Sesay, a great champion of justice and a pioneer in the growing field of legal empowerment.
WINNER: Nossas Cidades, Brazil
Nossas Cidades educates citizens on the rights afforded to them by law when they are confronted by state violence. They train people to gather evidence and file claims, then monitor the progress of cases. Their innovative use of technology, whether via social media, the internet, and mobile phone apps, ensures that public officials and law enforcement are held accountable for their actions.They are at the cutting edge of legal empowerment efforts today.
The Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela Memorial Prize for Scale and Sustainability
In honor of Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela, a tireless advocate for community-based paralegals and access to justice.
WINNER: Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice, USA/Mexico
Campaign for Migrant Worker Justice helps migrant farmworkers from Mexico organize to improve the working conditions in the fields in the US. CMJW trains these farmworkers on their legal rights, helps them to bring legal claims before government agencies, and raises awareness of unlawful practices and deficient laws and enforcement mechanisms. Their close collaboration with unions and use of community fundraising makes their work sustainable and scalable. They are a shining example of how strategic partnerships with like-minded groups can expand the scope and impact of legal empowerment efforts.
The #WalkTogether Prize for Courage
Supported by #WalkTogether, a global campaign to champion the voices and deeds of groups that work to advance the freedoms that unite us. Over 9,000 people cast a ballot in the public vote that determined the winner.
WINNER: Kav LaOved, Israel
Kav LaOved defends workers’ rights and ensures the enforcement of Israeli labor law which is designed to protect every worker in Israel, irrespective of nationality, religion, gender and legal status. Most of the workers Kav LaOved assists are marginalized foreign nationals whose first-language is not Hebrew and who hold temporary employment visas allowing them to live and work in the country. Employers frequently take advantage of these foreign and migrant workers because of their vulnerable status in the country. The work of Kav LaOved takes true courage: defending the rights of foreign workers often goes against the tide of public opinion in a hostile political climate.
Learn more about Kav LaOved in this interview with Eliahu Abram, Kav LaOved board member and senior human rights lawyer.
The winners were celebrated at a ceremony in Buenos Aires on World Justice Day. The Argentine Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Germán Garavano, opened the ceremony. Mary Robinson and Hina Jilani of The Elders presented the winners with their awards and joined them in having a courageous conversation on what needs to be done to address the access to justice gap.
Grassroots justice defenders like these three organizations are bringing down barriers that prevent people and communities from accessing justice. But their efforts are underfunded and, in many places, under attack. It was thus fitting that at the end of the ceremony, the Global Legal Empowerment Network announced the official launch of Justice For All, a global campaign that will push for increased funding and protections for those working for justice at the grassroots.
In the year to come, Namati and the Global Legal Empowerment Network will work to shine a light on the three winners of the Grassroots Justice Prize and work to get them — and all justice defenders — the recognition they deserve.
Did you miss the livestream of the ceremony? Not to worry, you can still watch it on Facebook.