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March 31, 2017

The Power of Strategic Partnerships in Promoting Gender Equality Worldwide

Substantive gender equality and non-discrimination are among the cornerstones of international human rights law and sustainable development goals (SDGs). While in recent decades the world has seen considerable advancements in women's legal status, the World Economic Forum has recently warned that at the current pace, the global gender gap will not close entirely for another 170 years. But one paradigm stands out as one of the most critical to accelerating women’s progress: strategic partnerships. High-impact partnerships have the power to harness innovative ideas through a wide range of stakeholders working together to generate sustainable solutions and realize the vision of planet 50-50 by 2030.

The principle of partnership is inherent to the vision and mission of the American Bar Association Rule of Initiative (ABA ROLI) and constitutes a vital component of its programs aimed at elevating the status of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people. ABA ROLI employs a highly consultative approach to the delivery of technical assistance, by engaging with local partners and sharing responsibility to implement gender interventions that are responsive to their needs and interests. Specific strategies include facilitating unique and multisectoral collaborations involving diverse stakeholders and often unlikely allies as well as supporting the creation, and strengthening the capacity of, civil society organizations (CSOs), community groups, coalitions and networks that promote LGBTI equality and women’s rights.

In sub-Saharan Africa, ABA ROLI programs involving long-standing relationships with local justice system actors, community mobilizers, CSOs, faith-based groups, healthcare providers and international organizations have been key to responding to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in a holistic and integrated manner. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), ABA ROLI has implemented a variety of projects (such as Ushindi), which offer legal, medical, psychosocial and economic support services to SGBV survivors and train key stakeholders on the legal aspects of SGBV cases. To ensure the sustainability of its interventions, ABA ROLI also emphasizes community engagement and relationship building with traditional and religious leaders.

ABA ROLI has a long-standing institutional record of initiating and providing technical assistance to CSOs, coalitions and professional networks in an effort to empower them to advocate for women’s rights, support female lawyers and influence policy-making. Over ten years ago, ABA ROLI facilitated the establishment of the Arab Women’s Legal Network (AWLN), the first regional professional association for women working in the legal profession in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Recently, ABA ROLI replicated this model in Libya by enabling the formation of a national Women’s Legal Network. The Hakki “My Right” Organization for Libyan Legal Women, supports the professional development of women lawyers and raises awareness of women’s and children’s rights across the country. Hakki Organization member, Abtisam Farag said, “(The Hakki)Organization is opening important horizons for (Libyan) women.” In addition, ABA ROLI has empowered and provided guidance to CSOs and women’s groups in Tunisia, Morocco and the Central African Republic to ensure that women have a meaningful voice in state-building and transitional justice initiatives, and to promote gender-sensitive constitutional and legal reforms.

Forging strategic partnerships and sharing international comparative perspectives have been vital to programming in China where ABA ROLI has implemented domestic violence prevention initiatives since 2007. Reflecting the program’s incredible success, China has instituted the concept of domestic violence protection orders in over 200 courts around the country and passed the first national Domestic Violence Law of the People's Republic of China in 2015. This groundbreaking legislation contains express provisions on the use of protection orders, with several guidelines taken directly from an ABA ROLI-supported judicial benchbook on domestic violence Robin Runge, the former director of the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, who contributed to the program over the years, attributes the immeasurable impact to ABA ROLI’s long-term relationships with national experts and institutions, and its interactive domestic violencetrainings for judges and lawyers which, in her opinion, have resulted in profound mindset shifts for many of them.

Coalition building and CSO strengthening are also key components of ABA ROLI’s initiatives aimed at promoting LGBTI equality in China. ABA ROLI has catalyzed the creation of a network of over 200 lawyers and LGBTI advocates who support each other in providing critical legal services to LGBTI persons and using China’s Open Government Information regulations as an advocacy tool in the fight for equality on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

Similarly, the National Partnership for Equal Rights program, implemented by ABA ROLI and its local partner GENDERDOC-M in Moldova, trained and facilitated networking among nearly 70 representatives from 15 different human rights organizations in order to enhance legal protections for LGBTI populations and defend their rights. Kristi Kontak, ABA ROLI Senior Program Manager said that bringing these organizations together has allowed them to work together more effectively, stop discriminatory practices within their own internal structures and mainstream LGBTI rights in their work. Unlikely alliances were also built between the Moldovan LGBTI community and justice system actors who — having heard firsthand gay and lesbian activists’ coming-out stories during ABA ROLI-facilitated trainings — experienced attitudinal change and became advocates for equality.

Efforts to facilitate cooperation among key stakeholders are also underway in El Salvador where ABA ROLI and its local partner, “De la Mano Contigo” (otherwise known as Hand-in-Hand With You: Foundation of Family and Friends for Sexual Diversity), are leading a newly established working group of LGBTI CSOs.

The importance and power of strategic partnerships in promoting gender equality strongly resonates among international development experts associated with ABA ROLI.

  • “Bringing together different entities around a specific objective… does make sense,” said Aline Matta, ABA ROLI Senior Regional Advisor for MENA. “Do we need partnerships? Yes. Do we need to build networks?  Not necessarily...  But we do need to leverage existing networks or choose strategic partners with a view to whether they can carry the work forward and outward,” Matta added.
  • “Partnerships are so critical because you can be in spaces to which you would otherwise not get access to,” Runge said. “If you do not understand the existing relationships and politics, you can have the best intentions but you can fall flat on your face.”
  • “Without the collaboration and networking, you cannot go into a community… and be an authority and expect people to take the ball unless they have had input, they have had (a) voice and they have a part that’s meaningful,” said Judge Jerry Bowles, a former ABA ROLI pro bono legal specialist and retired judge of the Jefferson County Family Court of the 30th Judicial Circuit in Kentucky. “That’s where the collaboration and networking between the ABA and the local people is absolutely essential. Otherwise, they don’t own it and it will leave when you leave.”
  • “Any implementation of international development programs must take into account the specificity of women’s realities,” said Serene Lim, a program officer with ABA ROLI’s Malaysian partner EMPOWER. “A collaborative approach between international and local experts should adopt an open, iterative and bottom-up process in which people from diverse background can participate and contribute to the movement of promoting gender equality,” she added.

ABA ROLI recognizes that effective response to gender inequalities requires coordinated, inclusive and a highly sophisticated approach and broad multisectoral collaboration. In the words of William Clemmer, Chief of Party of the IMA-led Ushindi project in DRC, “Paired international (and local) expertise is an optimum strategy to foster awareness, build capacity and develop sustainability in the goal of gender equity and eradication of SGBV.”

To learn more about our gender work, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected]