Women's human rights and legislative advocacy
What is women’s human rights advocacy?
Women’s human rights advocacy:
- Amplifies the definition and understanding of human rights to cover abuses of women that are not yet generally acknowledged as human rights violations;
- Expands the scope of state responsibility for the protection of women’s human rights in both the public and private spheres; and
- Enhances the effectiveness of the human rights system at both national and international levels in enforcing human rights and holding abusers accountable.
(See: Women’s Human Rights Step by Step, Women, Law & Development International and Human Rights Watch, 117, 1997)
What is Legislative Advocacy?
- Legislative advocacy is the specific activity of working for the creation and adoptions of rights-specific legislation, or changes to existing legislation. This activity is also frequently known as “lobbying” because it occurs in the lobbies of congress or parliament. Lobbying necessarily involves having a strong draft bill or law that incorporates the best practices to present to the legislative branch of your government.
- One of the first steps in passing a new law or changing an existing law is the drafting process. Attorneys, advocates, government and non-government officials, constituents and those directly affected by any proposed law should be consulted and involved in the process. Many countries consult international and regional experts to review their laws prior to presenting them to the legislature. This is a critical and absolutely necessary part of the lobbying process and cannot be overemphasized. The draft law should reflect the experience and best practices in the area addressed. The language of the law must be carefully reviewed to avoid unintended consequences and the potential undermining of women’s human rights. Consultation with advocates from other countries or jurisdictions with experience in the implementation of similar laws can facilitate these goals by incorporating best practices and lessons learned. See: Lobbying and Legal Reform, StopVAW.
- In addition to the effort of drafting a sound new law or amendments to an existing law; lobbying itself requires a great deal of effort, thought, coalition building, and expertise. Lobbying is only one component of a larger advocacy strategy. Advocates should consider how lobbying fits into the overall advocacy strategy and the best time to engage in lobbying. In addition, lobbying should not be undertaken without significant discussion and planning. See: Lobbying and Legal Reform, StopVAW.
CASE STUDY: Advocating for a Sexual Harassment Law in Benin, West Africa
In the West African country of Benin, sexual harassment of women and girls has been a serious concern. With the long term support of international partners and in consultation with non-governmental organizations and civil society, Benin in 2006 passed a broad law aimed at preventing and punishing sexual harassment of women and girls. See: Loi sur le Harcelement Sexuel, 2006; Benin bans sexual harassment July 26, 2006.
Efforts to draft a law began with a consideration of how to focus the law – solely sexual harassment in employment or address additional areas. The coalition held a week-long workshop, facilitated by an expert with knowledge of the topic, and included high-ranking government officials, international partners, NGOs, and representatives from the business and education sectors. Drawing on a model sexual harassment law, the workshop split into smaller groups to carry out the drafting. The next step was to hold a workshop for parliamentarians to educate them about the draft law and to garner a commitment to introduce the legislation. Parliamentarians committed to introducing the bill, and despite a delay because of elections, the bill was introduced and passed.
USAID identified the following good practices that were a central components of Benin’s effort to draft and pass sexual harassment legislation:
- Develop a well-drafted sexual harassment law using local experts that improves a country’s legal framework, thus benefiting the population (especially women), which can be replicated in other countries.
- Use a collaborative approach at all stages of the process to draft legislation by holding a workshop for key stakeholders early on to solicit buy-in and input.
- Build on previous work, knowledge, and expertise of a network of NGOs, and continue to work closely with them throughout the process.
- Hold regular informational meetings with key stakeholders to convey the results of the legislative drafting process.
(See: USAID Women’s Legal Rights Initiative, Annual Report on Good Practices, Lessons Learned, and Success Stories, 6, 2006)