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Namati’s Accelerated Action for Justice: Building a movement for legal empowerment

When the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted, 193 countries made a commitment: to provide access to justice for all. But for years, progress has been slow, and grassroots justice organizations remain underfunded and under threat.

5.1 billion people –  two thirds of the population – cannot meaningfully access justice. Over the last 10 years, the global justice gap has grown. It’s time to turn this story of injustice around. We need scaled up & effective financing that supports people-centered approaches to justice to accelerate progress on SDG16

At the United Nations SDG summit, we have a chance to call on world leaders and justice partners to accelerate action and increase investment to achieve the promise of equal access to justice for all by 2030. 

Instead of just demands, Namati and the Global Legal Empowerment Network are leading by example through our own Accelerated Action for Justice. We announced this week that we will fundraise 45 million USD over the next 5 years. The funds we raise will support efforts to advance justice by equipping people to understand, use, and shape the law. 

We will dedicate all the resources we have on hand – including our expertise, our convening power, and our infrastructure for learning, collaborating, and campaigning – to forging a stronger global movement for legal empowerment.

Legal empowerment offers a practical, cost-effective way of making the law work for ordinary people. It is a method ready for significantly increased investment. Our Accelerated Action will support the Global Legal Empowerment Network as well as Namati’s work with Network members across six countries. It will assist hundreds of grassroots organizations with meaningfully deepening the impact, sustainability, and quality of their legal empowerment work. It will contribute to transformative impact on issues of securing citizenship, realizing the right to health, enforcing environmental law, protecting community land rights, and reducing the harms of development projects.

We are committed to working with other network members to fill the global justice gap and support bottom-up approaches the deliver justice for all.  

Our Accelerated Action for Justice: Building a movement for legal empowerment 

The size of the justice gap is staggering. From the United States to Slovenia, people are raising their children in the shadow of factories that are poisoning their air and water. From Tunisia to South Sudan, women seeking recourse for sexual and gender-based violence are turned away by justice institutions. From Mozambique to Guatemala, people are losing access to life-saving treatments when health clinics demand unlawful bribes for services.

Namati and members of the Global Legal Empowerment Network will advance justice by equipping people to understand, use, and shape the laws that affect them.

Legal empowerment efforts are often carried out by community paralegals, who go by many names, including barefoot lawyers or community legal workers. They are trained in law and policy and in skills like mediation, organizing, and advocacy. They help people to seek concrete solutions to instances of injustice, engaging formal and traditional institutions alike. 

Community paralegals are essential to closing the global justice gap. They have proven that they can help communities to access justice, even when systems are broken. With the law on their side, people are able to thrive, seek peaceful solutions, protect the lands and resources they depend on, and hold their governments to account. 

The Global Legal Empowerment Network will strengthen and connect community paralegals, and the organizations that deploy them, around the world. We will build spaces for them to meet and collaborate online and in-person. We will host events and activities that help them learn from each other. We will maintain a library of useful resources. We will collectively advocate to secure support and sustainable funding for the field. 

Namati will also work in close partnership with network members to take on three urgent issues – health justice, land and environmental justice, and citizenship justice – in six countries: Kenya, India, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, and the United States. We aim to achieve transformative impact in each of these countries.

In Sierra Leone, by supporting communities in protecting their customary land rights, we will significantly reduce environmental and social harm from mining, agricultural, or development projects. We will change policy nationwide so that people who depend on the land have a meaningful voice in what happens to it.

In Kenya, where paralegals are helping communities to secure IDs, we will work to end discrimination in the administration of identity documents. We will also bring a historic community land law to life by helping communities to secure over a million hectares of land and persuading county governments to implement the law.

In Mozambique, where paralegals are helping people to understand health policy and to take action to address failures to comply, we will significantly reduce violations and democratize health governance nationwide though the empowerment of village health committees.

In India, we will empower communities to use the law to find remedies when industrial projects violate environmental regulations, as well as to demand a more effective and participatory regulatory framework.

In Myanmar, community paralegals support smallholder farmers to navigate complex administrative processes for regaining access to land that was seized during military rule. There, we will strive to replace a top-down, repressive system of land governance with one that respects the experience and voice of those who depend directly on the land.

Together with the communities we serve, we will strive to translate the lessons from our grassroots experience into positive, large-scale changes to laws and systems. We will share everything we learn from our grassroots work with our wider community. 

By unlocking the potential of community paralegals who provide essential legal support to communities, Namati and the Global Legal Empowerment Network will help to make justice a reality for the billions who are being left behind.

What next?

Let’s move from words to action together, by developing and submitting your own acceleration actions for justice.

Justice for all is a massive undertaking, an audacious goal, and an urgent demand. In this time, in our moment, we have a chance to achieve it together. Let’s commit to it.

September 23, 2019 | Vivek Trivedi