This paper presents the results of survey research conducted in Bangladesh during the period November 2000 through January 2001, as a supplement to the seven-country Legal Empowerment Study undertaken under Asian Development Bank Regional Technical Assistance 5856. The research examined the impact of legal empowerment, which is the use of law to increase disadvantaged populations’ control over their lives, on selected aspects of sample groups’ legal knowledge, economic well being, gender equity, and participation in local governance.
Legal empowerment differs from the more general notion of empowerment in that it involves the explicit or implicit use of the law (for example, through training, counseling, or litigation) or relates to public decision-making processes that have a specific legal dimension (for example, equipping citizens or communities with the skills and confidence to appear before an administrative tribunal or to inform local policy development). It frequently combines such activities with initiatives that are not inherently law-oriented, such as community organizing or livelihood development. While they typically include education, most advanced legal empowerment initiatives aim to do more than simply teach people about law. They provide the disadvantaged with opportunities to apply their knowledge through actions that are intended to advance their legal rights, improve their quality of life, or increase their participation in public decision making.
The survey involved a controlled comparison of three different approaches to legal empowerment to determine differences in impact on beneficiary populations, as well as demographically similar control samples. The three nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) selected for the survey were: (i) the Madaripur Legal Aid Association (MLAA), which specializes in educating citizens about the law and providing a variety of legal services, notably mediation; (ii) Samata, which concentrates on mobilizing communities to apply the law through mass-based advocacy initiatives; and (iii) Banchte Shekha, which provides mediation and other legal services as part of an integrated development strategy for women.