International Development Law Organization

Priority Action 1: Foster participation, involve and empower individuals in decision-making processes

PRIORITY ACTION 1: Foster participation, involve and empower individuals in decision-making processes

The COVID-19 pandemic put traditional relationships between citizen and state under further strain. The emergency required policymakers to act quickly and decisively, sometimes bypassing regular processes of public participation and civic engagement. Building back beyond the immediate crisis will require reigniting public participation. It will require empowering those often excluded from decision-making but most affected by it to take part in public debate and hold decision-makers to account.

At the heart of the 2030 Agenda lies a vision of a “just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met.” SDG 16.3 aims to ensure equal access to justice for all by 2030, while other targets address legal issues such as the denial of legal identity, the promotion of human rights and gender empowerment.

Empowerment is premised on people’s capacity to claim their rights and seek accountability and redress. Empowerment and inclusion approaches, particularly ones that target the needs of the most vulnerable, must be central to any strategy to advance the objectives of SDG 16 and the 2030 Agenda. Such approaches ensure that otherwise excluded individuals can fulfil their potential as active agents of positive change, while also holding the key to dismantling poverty cycles and fostering more peaceful societies.

The empowerment of women and girls is critical to improving women’s access to justice and the services they receive. The effective involvement of women in all aspects of justice delivery is a core aspect of their participation in public and political life, a crucial component of good governance and a matter of fairness and equal opportunity. By empowering them to claim their rights, women become better-equipped to assert their rights and demand accountability, as well as participate as equal partners in sustainable development.

Young people will bear the brunt of the long-term social and economic impacts of COVID-19. Engaging and involving them in the recovery process is both an act of justice and an essential requirement for a sustainable future. Harnessing the passion, energy, and innovative drive of the over 1.8 billion people in the world between the ages of 15 and 35 — a quarter of the global population – can help accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda and more peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

National and international policies must be focused on the needs of the most vulnerable to ensure that societies are resilient and provide for those most marginalized and left behind. 


Empowering adolescent girls and young women to claim their rights

Adolescent girls and young women currently account for just over 70 percent of new HIV infections among young people in sub-Saharan Africa. Due to gender and age-based biases, discrimination and violence, including sexual assault, forced marriage and trafficking, they are more vulnerable to HIV infections. Despite growing responses to the epidemic, adolescent girls often do not have the capacity, voice nor power to hold service providers accountable for the delivery of quality HIV-related services. 

From 2016 to 2018, IDLO piloted an innovative initiative focusing on the legal and social drivers affecting adolescent girls and young women (AGYW), and their communities’ ability to keep HIV service providers accountable in Tanzania (districts of Kahama and Shinyanga) and Uganda (districts of Gomba and Mukono). With a unique blend of legal empowerment and social accountability strategies at national, regional and local levels, the project targeted the key drivers of accountability and gender inequality.

The project built the capacity of adolescent girls and young women and their communities, as well as health and justice sector actors, and strengthened village health committees’ and CSOs’ ability to demand better HIV, health and justice services. IDLO supported efforts to design handbooks and deliver trainings to over 500 civil society advocates, health providers, village health committees and government and judicial officers. Tied with community awareness-raising and information gathering to build cases for strategic litigation, the project’s innovation was its development of social accountability mechanisms, enabling community members to provide feedback to community legal and health service providers.

The project resulted in an 89% increase in adolescent girls and young women accessing HIV-related services, as well as an increase in the number of GBV litigation cases. Together with advocacy at the national level, the project resulted in an increased understanding within the government of the needs of adolescent girls and young women and prompted commitments to be made to review policy related to HIV-related services.

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Leaving no one behind in COVID-19 response and recovery policies

In crisis situations, more than in other circumstances, citizens demand effectiveness, accountability and transparency from public institutions and their leadership. Rule of law-based policymaking is critical to providing legitimacy and enhancing public trust in government for the extraordinary measures that need to be deployed in both crisis response and recovery contexts.

IDLO launched the Crisis Governance Forum in July 2020 to provide an online platform for policymakers and practitioners at all levels to share insights related to a rule of law-based COVID-19 response and recovery. The Forum offers an exchange of experiences in framing sustainable recovery strategies that ensure citizens’ participation, promote confidence in public institutions, and build resilience for the future.

The initiative was intended as a contribution to the overall effort to project the 2030 Agenda, and SDG 16 within that Agenda, as a roadmap in designing post-pandemic social and economic recovery strategies and in building community resilience to similar external shocks in the future.

The Crisis Governance Forum has addressed policies to promote equitable access to healthcare and focused on strategies targeting those most at risk of being left behind. Discussions between policymakers and practitioners from a variety of professional backgrounds explored policies to advance equity, fairness, non-discrimination, and social inclusion, and their role in addressing the emerging and growing vulnerabilities resulting from the pandemic.

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