Thematic Areas

Womens’ Human Rights, Sexual Rights and The Law

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Our Work Is Organized In Four Thematic Areas

Practices and Procedures

Developing and enhancing the legal rules and procedures that are required to create an enabling environment for strategic litigation.

Sexual Rights

We prioritise responding to human rights violations based on sexuality, broadly, and sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), specifically.

Womens’ Socio-Economic Rights

We prioritise using the law to achieve policy and legal outcomes that advance socio-economic rights, such as women’s legal rights to land.

Violence against women

We prioritise the enhancement of the protection of women from violence in its many forms. Violence against women is a form of discrimination.

Practices and Procedures

Our Practices and Procedures focus on developing and enhancing the legal rules and procedures that are required to create an enabling environment for strategic litigation. We seek to elaborate and clarify constitutional and broader human rights litigation standards. We also engage in law reform by making submissions where we seek to clarify and develop procedures to reflect best practices in human rights litigation. The current focus of our work is on the following:

  • Legal standing
  • Amicus curiae provisions
  • Human rights remedies
  • Cost orders
  • Development of rules of procedure

Sexual Rights

We prioritise responding to human rights violations based on sexuality, broadly, and sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), specifically. Through this work, we support litigation efforts to develop jurisprudence and hold states and non-state actors accountable for SOGIE-based human rights violations.

ISLA places great importance on the incremental approach to strategic litigation. In order to bring about broader social change, our strategy focuses on responding to everyday SOGIE-based violations. The objective is to eliminate SOGIE-based violations by protecting the human rights of LGBTQI people through the use of courts. The focus of the work is on identifying and naming human rights concerns that are amenable to strategic litigation in different contexts and responding to the challenges as identified by the local actors. This unit works closely with the Sexual Rights Litigation Network which creates conditions for strategic litigation to take place. Through this method, we hope that the different cases will reveal the different ways in which human rights are violated, and reiterate the universality and indivisibility of human rights, which in turn will ensure that the human rights of LGBTQI people are recognised. In particular, we aim to promote the articulation of progressive standards and the development of jurisprudence before domestic courts and the African regional human rights system.

Specific issues that fall under our attention in the Sexual Rights Programme include:

  • Freedom from violence, and the obligation to act with due diligence (holding states accountable for failure to protect persons from violence, including failure to investigate, prosecute and punish acts of violence by state and non-state actors)
  • Protection from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
  • Freedom and security of persons (arbitrary detention and police harassment)
  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Protecting freedom of association and assembly
  • The right to privacy
  • The right to health
  • Decriminalisation

Women’s Socio-Economic Rights

We prioritise using the law to achieve policy and legal outcomes that advance socio-economic rights. Such rights may relate to women’s legal rights to material resources such as land, housing or property, access to fair and non-discriminatory working conditions, the recognition of human and sexual rights within diverse zones of labour (including wage-based, informal, casual and reproductive sectors), as well as women’s access to healthcare and education. The current focus of our work is on the following:

  • The lack of equal rights to inheritance
  • Laws excluding or restricting women’s access to property rights
  • The property rights of women who are cohabiting
  • Legal processes that lead to the denial of women’s property rights
  • Exclusion of women in the processes and laws governing the administration of deceased estates
  • Practices and laws that threaten women’s rights to an equitable share of property upon dissolution of marriage
  • Gendered impact of the activities of the extractives industry on women’s access and use of land
  • Sexual harassment
  • Laws and practices which hinder women’s rights to work
  • Laws and practices which affect women’s rights in the workplace
  • Women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare rights
  • Women’s rights to education

Violence Against Women

We prioritise the enhancement of the protection of women from violence in its many forms, through the development of legal standards that elaborate on state obligations. Violence against women is a form of discrimination. We focus on the positive obligations of the state to hold both state and non-state actors accountable for the protection of women and the prevention of this form of discrimination.

Through this thematic area, we address the following main issues:

  • The failure to provide legal protection to adult victims of human trafficking.
  • Legal defence of victims of violence who intersect with the criminal justice system.
  • The recognition and expansion of legal defences available to women who engage in the criminal justice system as a result of violence perpetrated on them or against them.
  • Legal defence for women who name their abusers.
  • The failure to provide adequate responses and protection from violence against women with intersecting identities, including women with disabilities, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (LBT) women and migrant women.
  • The extent to which gender stereotypes inform state failure to adequately respond to violence against women.

About Us

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.

Contact Details

Contact Number:

+27 11 338 9024/9028/9014

Fax: +27 11 338 9029

Address: 208-211 Rahima Moosa Street, Marble Towers, 15th Floor Johannesburg, 2001 Gauteng, South Africa