ISLA is a Pan-African and feminist initiative that engages the rule of law within African domestic and regional courts to advance sexual and women’s human rights. Strategic litigation can reframe understandings of entitlements before the law, challenge legal discourse on human rights violations, hold States and other duty-bearers accountable to violations of human rights (especially those grounded in gender and sexualities), and develop new norms. Their work is also based on the belief that strategic litigation is a powerful tool for social change because it has the capacity to work in multidimensional ways, both within a given context and, critically, across contexts. They highlight positive developments and emphasize cross-learnings from various countries on the continent. They seek to highlight and assert women’s leadership and contribution in the African human rights system and making visible women’s voices and experiences in the jurisprudence to surface gender bias. Feminism is at the heart of our endeavors: our work is designed to challenge patriarchy, class and power relations by centering women’s voices and women’s agency.
ISLA’S GOALS ARE:
- To develop jurisprudence on gender and sexuality, in particular, feminist jurisprudence before domestic courts and the African Human Rights Systems on its thematic areas of focus and on practices and procedures that hamper strategic litigation.
- To use the law to hold States and other duty bearers accountable for a violation based on gender and sexuality by strengthening and defending human rights accountability mechanisms in Africa.
- To build strong movements empowered to litigate on gender and sexuality through training and support in strategic litigation or by strengthening in-country institutions and leadership to do strategic litigation.
In accordance with the stated goals, ISLA is excited to announce that recruitment for partner organizations seeking to join Phase Two of the Feminist Litigation Network (2020 – 2023) is now open. Joining the Feminist Litigation Network provides the organizations and women feminist lawyers an opportunity to:
- Strengthen the institution’s strategic litigation capacity and that of their lawyers
- Contribute to the creation of a pool of African feminist litigators
- Develop feminist jurisprudence in your respective domestic courts and in regional and international human rights systems
THE FEMINIST LITIGATION NETWORK
ISLA has identified causal links between the failure to refer cases before Courts and Regional Human Rights Systems; and the dearth of legal information and skills deficit of lawyers as:
- The majority of organizations funded to do strategic litigation are legal-aid service providers.
- Strategic litigation requires particular training and resources for litigators to explore the broader legal context in which routine cases are pursued.
- Capacity strengthening programs are offered sporadically and often lack the targeted follow-up which is crucial to long term success.
- Most lawyers who attend training programs come from institutions which are not equipped to litigate strategically
ISLA is therefore designed to strengthen strategic litigation by building knowledge-sharing networks across the continent. This includes the investment in the capacity of local organizations and individuals who are engaged in strategic litigation with the goal of:
- creating a pool of feminist women litigators by recruiting lawyers and researchers whose work will focus on doing strategic litigation on women’s human rights
- investing in partner organizations to establish a Strategic Litigation Unit (SL Unit) or strengthen the capacity of an existing SL Unit
- provision of capacity strengthening activities for partner organizations that are contextually designed for the partner organizations and their on-going work in order to strengthen the capacity of the SL Unit
- development of feminist jurisprudence before domestic courts, the African Human Rights systems, and United Nations treaty bodies on women’s human rights by identifying and developing cases for submission before national courts or regional human rights systems
Using a hub model with ISLA as the anchor institution, we seek to foster various types of partnerships with organizations: Core, Associate and Case Development partners.
- Core Network Partnerships: A Strategic Litigation Unit is created within the Network Partner organization and a lawyer is recruited and employed by the local partner organization. ISLA makes funding available to the network partner organization to recruit and employ a full-time lawyer where ISLA is committed to paying 50% of the lawyer’s salary. This lawyer will exclusively focus on strategic litigation. Organizations that are core network partners must be able to commit at least one of their other women strategic litigators, including the newly recruited lawyer, to attend the litigation institutes for three years.
- Associate Network Partnership: If a Strategic Litigation Unit already exists within the Network Partner’s organization meaning that there are already lawyers employed to litigate strategic litigation cases, we focus on strengthening the capacity of the lawyers to litigate strategically through their commitment to attend the litigation institutes twice a year for three years. This partnership is centered on the strengthening of an existing unit than support to set up a strategic litigation unit.
- Case Development Partnership: A Strategic Litigation Unit is not created within the Partner organization and it is not mandatory for their lawyers to attend the litigation institute. This partnership focuses on collaborations between ISLA and the Partner organization that has identified strategic litigation cases that fall within ISLA’s thematic areas of focus. The case development partnership is limited to case development, research or any other specifically agreed-upon deliverables that relate to developing and lodging strategic litigation cases either domestically or before a regional body.
THEMATIC AREAS OF FOCUS
The Feminist Litigation Network’s thematic areas of focus are:
Violence Against Women (VAW)
- Women in the criminal justice system
- VAW and Harmful Stereotypes
Women’s Economic Justice (WEJ)
- Women’s right to inheritance
- Distribution of matrimonial property at the time of dissolution of the marriage
- Women’s rights to land and property as it arises in cohabitation relationships
- Workplace discrimination
Women’s Socio-Economic Rights (WSER)
Practices and procedures including on issues relating to:
- Amicus Curiae
ISLA LITIGATION INSTITUTES
The Litigation institutes are two-week intensive capacity strengthening activity that takes place twice a year over a period of 3 years. The faculty, which comprise of both academic and legal practitioners with expertise in various thematic areas incorporate theoretical and practical components throughout the institutes. The curriculum focuses on the development of knowledge and skill on the instrumentalization of comparative law, human rights methods, contextual feminist legal theory and strategic litigation on sexual rights and women’s human rights. For each institute, the participants are capped at 12 in order to accommodate full engagement, one-on-one contact sessions with members of faculty and in-depth interaction with the reading and presentations provided by the experts.
The overall objectives of Litigation Institutes are to:
- Encourage and coordinate knowledge production and sharing between partner lawyers on identified capacity building needs within identified subject areas
- Improve the capacity of lawyers within the region in strategic litigation on women’s human rights cases internationally, regionally and at the domestic level through the contribution of experts in certain thematic areas
ISLA desires partners that understand the long-term vision of the programming in the country and are able to locate this as a core part of their organizational work. The lawyers need not be experts in specific thematic areas but rather are women lawyers who understand ISLA’s vision and objectives and whose work is located in the social movements, see themselves as being a part of building a social movement by using strategic litigation as a tool for social change. Thus, the partner organization must have the ability to make preliminary assessments on the effectiveness of the work according to the stated objectives.
ISLA notes the position of some organizations’ close working capacity and co-operation with the State in the realization of human rights. We however also recognize the tension that exists in holding the state accountable to human rights violations and are thus seeking institutions that are intentional in taking up the role to challenge the status quo. The partnership criterion to join the FLN partnership requires that:
- The organization’s political orientation is aligned with that of ISLA
- Feminist and focused on holding States and other duty bearers accountable for violation of women’s human rights
- Preferably, the organization’s strategic litigation cases should be within ISLA’s thematic areas of work or be directed at creating an enabling environment for strategic litigation, for example, cases that focus on practices and procedures that hinder strategic litigation.
- Strategic litigation must be an organizational strategy that is appreciated as an effective tool for social change
- The organization must have two or more women lawyers within the organization who are:
- Qualified to litigate/are advocates (have the right of appearance in the jurisdiction they work in)
- Interested in strategic litigation and can commit to participating in ISLA’s capacity strengthening activities such as the Litigation Institutes that take place for 2 weeks twice a year in Johannesburg. Attendance over the three-year period for each litigation institute is mandatory.
- The partner lawyer(s) must be housed within the partner organization
ISLA invites organizations that meet the selection criteria to complete the application form. This application form is divided into two sections:
- Section A: Organisation Application Form
- Section B: Lawyers’ Application Form
Section B: Lawyers’ Application Form must be completed by the lawyers intending to join the Feminist Litigation Network through their organization.
All applications must be submitted in English. Kindly complete the application form online via the link: “Online Application: ISLA Feminist Litigation Network – Phase 2”