respect for human dignity
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The Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) is a Pan-African and feminist initiative, founded in 2014 to strengthen strategic human rights litigation across the African continent.
ISLA uses the law to build a positive cultural context that affirms and asserts African values which are consistent with human rights. ISLA resists imperialism, neo-colonialism, and fundamentalism. The work highlights positive developments, creates an environment for learning from various jurisdictions and uses jurisprudence from different countries across the continent to highlight positive developments and the emerging consensus on the advancement of gender and sexuality issues.
ISLA’s work is designed to challenge patriarchy and class and power relations by centring women’s voices and women’s agency. We highlight and assert women’s leadership and contributions in litigation and the African human rights mechanisms, making visible women’s voices and experiences in the development and implementation of human rights standards, so as to surface gender bias in the law.
Why We Exist
ISLA’s existence is a response to the skills deficit and institutional limitations within organisations, within the framework of strategic human rights litigation. Despite continuing human rights violations, based on gender and sexuality, legal efforts to hold states accountable for these violations have been scant. For instance, in over 30 years of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights there have only been two decisions handed down for violations of women’s human rights, and none for sexual rights. Similarly, the African Court has only had one case on women’s human rights and none on sexual rights.
Strategic litigation is often under-explored as an instrument for social change, promoting rights and seeking effective redress when those rights are violated, due to institutional limitations within non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and a skills and experience deficit. These challenges hamper the submission of well-chosen and well-argued strategic cases. As a result, even in cases where litigation is carried out, the overarching goal of developing feminist jurisprudence is often never reached.
ISLA believes in the power of strategic litigation to bring about significant social change by taking carefully selected cases to court and using them to change the law and legal practice and to bring about public awareness. The transformative change enabled by litigation can only happen as a result of investing in local institutions and individuals. The right investment contributes to sustaining momentum, strengthening social movements and expanding the pool of lawyers who can conduct successful strategic litigation on cases related to gender and sexuality.
Our Vision and Mission
ISLA envisions an Africa where human rights are fully realised for all marginalised people, based on gender and sexuality. Our mission is protecting women’s human and sexual rights through strategic litigation and capacity strengthening initiatives.
ISLA works towards achieving this vision and mission through key objectives:
To develop jurisprudence through the courts to hold state and non-state actors accountable
2. Enabling Environment
To create an enabling environment for strategic litigation, with the focus on lawyers, social movements and institutions that work on strategic litigation
To strengthen civil society to respond to threats and attacks that weaken civic space and human rights
How We Work
Our belief is that a single organisation, individual, or institution cannot singlehandedly effect socio-political change.
When implementing our theory of change, we focus on three important zones through which the law can operate: the socio-legal context, social movements and movement lawyering.
- ISLA’s work is positioned as a change-actor, and an assessment of the socio-legal context helps us to determine whether there is an enabling environment for strategic litigation.
- We focus on social movements because we believe that building informed and empowered social movements mean that they will be invested in outcomes that can bring about social change.
- Our work aims to develop a pool of movement lawyers that have a consciousness and responsibility to assist and support litigation.
Working within this framework, ISLA has prioritised the following four areas:
Litigation for Social Change
Strengthening Capacity to Litigate Strategically
Building Partnerships for Social Justice
Producing Knowledge for Social Change
Founded in 2014, the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) is a Pan-African and feminist initiative with a timely remit: to strengthen strategic human rights litigation across the African continent. Essentially, we aim to change the way that strategic litigation is used so as to enable broader access to justice and to support those who seek to hold states accountable for violations of women’s human rights and sexual rights.