The Role of Legal Empowerment Groups in Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Sub-Saharan Africa During the Pandemic

The widespread national lockdowns, introduced from March 2020 in order to curb the spread of COVID-19, exacerbated gender inequality and led to a worldwide increase in domestic violence and intimate partner violence against women. In all the countries which imposed lockdowns, including countries across Africa, these surges of domestic violence and intimate partner violence went hand-in-hand with the temporary closure of, or decreased access to, all the usual avenues for women facing violence to access justice, protection, medical care and psychosocial support. During times of strict lockdown, informal justice actors and legal empowerment groups played an indispensable role in mitigating the severe violence and barriers to accessing justice and other services which women faced. In 2021, a participatory research led jointly by The Legal Empowerment Network, convened by Namati, and Themis – Gender, Justice and Human Rights (Brazil) was published. The study examined institutional responses to domestic violence and intimate partner violence during the pandemic and considered the role of legal empowerment groups in ‘filling justice gaps, reducing violence, improving service provision, and demanding women can be ensured in times of crisis’. Legal Empowerment Network members from the four regions of Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia participated in that study.
This report, while drawing on the global study, has a narrower focus and provides a more in-depth look at the legal empowerment responses to rising numbers of Gender-Based Violence during the pandemic in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular.