Tutorial 1: What is Legal Empowerment?

hi my name is Steve Gollum I teach International Development and legal empowerment at Berkley law school and that Central European University in Budapest I also consult research and write for various international organizations concerned with these fields I'm here today to introduce the first of three videos on legal empowerment an emerging field of International Development that is getting increasing support from the United Nations the World Bank the Open Society Foundations the UK Department for International Development and various other development agencies nongovernmental groups and academic networks across the globe in this video I'm going to talk about what is legal empowerment to give you an initial overview of the field now a lot of what you're going to hear today and in the other two videos is the world according to Steve Gallup it's consistent with how many other individuals and organizations view this field but I don't pretend to talk with everyone involved with or concerned about it so what is legal empowerment here's one definition that a lot of people use legal empowerment is the use of law and rights specifically to increase disadvantaged populations control over their lives well what do we mean by those terms let me unpack that definition a little bit for you let's start with the notion of what disadvantaged populations are of course that involves the poor they're the biggest kind of disadvantage you can have in the world but it also involves people who may be suffering in other ways maybe marginalized by virtue of being minorities in their society certainly many women are disadvantaged in many ways victims of human rights abuses as well so that's what we mean by disadvantaged populations the poor and many other types of people who are marginalized or suffer from abuse now another concept I mentioned is law what do we mean by law of course it means civil law criminal law the things you find in courts but it's not just that it can mean also administrative law and regulations that is not things courts necessarily decide or are passed by Parliament's but things that are decide on the local level or decided by ministries yet another kind of law that's very important for law and development generally and for legal empowerment in particular is traditional law because in fact most people in many rural societies across the world turn to traditional forums rather than to formal state systems okay so that's the law what about rights well rights certainly can involve international human rights they're very important but more often when we talk about legal empowerment when we see it in action it involves people using national laws local laws regulations traditional law as I mentioned because that often is what more directly impacts their lives okay I mentioned people's control over their lives well what does that mean well it certainly involves increasing their incomes or assets or protecting their incomes or assets that's the core a core concept of legal empowerment of fighting poverty but control over their lives is consistent with a concept introduced by a marti ascend the famous Nobel Prize winning economist it's in development as freedom so it's not just economics it's people's in the physical security its health its safety it's housing it's a whole bunch of important concepts and values and priorities for people finally I mentioned in the definition that it involves specifically what affects the disadvantaged populations of the world and I want to emphasize specifically because this is where legal empowerment differs in some key ways from where most money and most support goes for law and development by specifically I mean rights and laws that really directly impact people regarding their health regarding their incomes regarding their gender equity regarding discrimination than the like lots of law and development support around the world goes for building up state institutions such as judiciary's or changing laws regarding a foreign investment than the like those things can be important but legal empowerment narrows in focuses on those laws and rights that really directly affect people okay enough about the definition let's move on to a few wishing features of legal empowerment one point I want to reinforce is the way in which it focuses on the poor as opposed to how mainstream or Orthodox approaches to law and development focus on building up government institutions that really is worth repeating and really worth remembering another important feature of legal empowerment is very often it features the work of civil society organizations what do I mean by that well I mean nongovernmental organizations commonly known as NGOs and other types of groups that may be membership organizations sometimes called community-based organizations why is civil society important well even though government programs can and sometimes do exhibit features of legal empowerment a lot of the most innovative and effective legal empowerment work across the globe is carried out by these civil society groups you might well ask well why is that it's a combination of features but often they tend to be more dedicated they tend to be less bureaucratic they tend to be more flexible in terms of how they carry around about their work they're more prepared to go out to the boondocks in rural areas or go into urban slums to teach and work with the disadvantaged those kinds of features now don't get me wrong civil society groups can be problematic in and of themselves they can be corrupt that could be ineffective that could be self-interested but the better ones across the globe are doing the cutting edge and more effective legal empowerment work here's another distinguishing feature of legal empowerment it's about legal implementation to a good extent now what is legal implementation let me start by explaining what it's not and what mainstream development tends to focus on mainstream development efforts that focus that try to improve laws and trying to improve legal systems really are concerned with what's called legal and institutional reform getting judiciary's to improve their operations reforming and changing laws in various ways all of this can be well and good in some places it's work better than others but what is often ignored and I have to confess often ignored by lawyers as well intentioned as many of us are is getting laws that exist on the books actually enforced on the ground legal empowerment is very concerned with that that's why I emphasize legal implementation the ways in which this go this happens I'll address in other videos in this series but legal implementation is important to remember there's one more crucial concept or an idea I really want to get across to you is that legal empowerment even more than being about law is about power it's about people organizing or being educated or using media in some cases even demonstrating to try to assert their rights to try to persuade government officials or other powerful forces to respect those rights or to expand those rights often we tend to think knowledge is power and legal empowerment certainly involves training and education to help people know the law know their rights but even more than that organization is power and it's important in understanding this field to know that a big obstacle that this that legal empowerment is attempting to overcome instance with some success in many areas is the powerlessness of the poor and the disadvantaged by giving them power it aids legal implementation and that even aids other types of progress that involve law and Development there are just a few more points I want to make to flesh out your understanding of what legal empowerment involves so far I might have conveyed the idea that it's just basically about grassroots work purely bottom-up sometimes it's characterized that way but that characterization really is wrong legal empowerment can involve law reform it can involve reforming institutions but where it goes on and we are a differs from mainstream development efforts is it focuses on laws and institutional activities that again directly specifically impact the poor so you have many situations we are groups that are concerned with legal empowerment the disadvantaged themselves may be lobbying or advocating on a local or national level sometimes even international for changes in laws entreaties in regulations that can that directly affect them and they're often even can be kind of a feedback loop in how this advocacy works in getting legislation changed it starts with people working on the ground be they lawyers be they the disadvantage themselves be they other allies of the poor to understand and work on improving the situation of the disadvantaged but based on what they learn they see gaps in the law they see problems they've become real experts of what needs to change then by virtue of advocating informing legislators informing government officials where they have enough power and influence to do so often working with other allies in society they get the laws change that get the regulations changed on the local or a national level then the feedback loop continues having achieved those changes they go back to the work of legal implementation so legal implementation feeding into legal reform feeding into legal implementation things don't always work as neatly as that as we know the world is a complicated place and development is tough to do but that's why I'm emphasizing that legal empowerment is not just about the grassroots it works on the policy and law reform and even constitutional reform level as well another thing I'd want to emphasize about legal empowerment is that even though the term was coined just a decade or so ago in the 2001 study by the Asia Foundation commissioned by the Asian Development Bank in many ways this work has been going on for decades just under other guises under other rubrics legal aid is legal empowerment legal services for the poor is legal empowerment sometimes there are some countries or groups that use more specific terms developmental lawyering alternative lawyer in public interest litigation social action litigation all of this is legal empowerment work now if this work has been going on for decades why am i talking about it here today why are you watching this video why might it be worthwhile well one point is that even though it's been going on for decades in the grand scheme of development and even law and development funding it's a drop in the bucket it gets much less support than mainstream law and development work perhaps after thinking about legal empowerment we might consider that it might merit more political and financial support from governments and from the international community here's another thing worth being aware of regarding legal empowerment so far I may have been describing it or come across as describing it as just a subset of law and development i've contrasted it with mainstream approaches focusing on state institutions changing laws regarding foreign investment or contracts and the like but i may have come across as saying hey it's just part of the big law and development picture if so let me correct that there's a whole emerging stream of legal empowerment that looks at how it integrates with other development fields public health education irrigation a whole local governance a whole host of fields that to some extent law has been insufficiently integrated with i'm not going to get into that now i'll get into that more in the second and particularly the third of this series i'm not just saying that to try to get you to watch the second and third but because discussing this new emerging trend in league of empowerment itself is better addressed down the line in this series one final point legal empowerment is not the be-all and end-all in development it is an important tool for helping specific populations and improving specific policies and laws in the number of countries but there is no magic bullet in international development and while legal empowerment deserves more support political and financial i don't want to present it as something that will cure all the world's ills i wish it were but to be honest it isn't but it is a very important tool towards some important ends so that's what legal empowerment is in the next two videos we're going to talk about how it operates and why it's important thanks for watching you

2 thoughts on “Tutorial 1: What is Legal Empowerment?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *