ABOUT THE EQUALITY EFFECT
The equality effect is a non-profit charity that uses international human rights law as a crowbar to pry open justice for women and girls around the world. Drawing on a team of feisty international lawyers, the equality effect supports its regional legal partners by initiating creative legal advocacy projects to achieve systemic change, e.g.: conducting research, collecting evidence, and developing test case litigation. In Kenya, the equality effect coordinated a constitutional claim against the government for failing to protect girls who had been raped; Kenya’s High Court agreed that the police failure to enforce existing rape laws, and police failure to protect them from rape, is a violation of domestic, regional, and human rights law. The equality effect is now implementing an inter-disciplinary, cross-sector plan, working with police, schools, and local communities, to ensure the implementation of the 160 Girls decision. The work that led to the landmark 160 Girls ruling informs the equality effect’s newest project in Malawi that also seeks justice for victims of rape.
As three-time Amnesty International Media award-winner and author Sally Armstrong writes: “Once, in a very long while, maybe once in a lifetime, you get to witness a story that shifts the way an entire country or continent sees itself. The process of change is usually daring, certainly time-consuming, invariably costly, occasionally heart-breaking, and eventually an exercise so rewarding that it is the stuff of legends; this is the story of the equality effect.”
In June 2017 the United Nations recognized the equality effect’s 160 Girls project as a best practice relating to advancing women’s rights and women’s empowerment.
The equality effect uses human rights law to achieve concrete change in the lives of women and girls in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi – change that will improve the health, safety, and standard of living of women and girls.
We explore how and why women experience oppression and disadvantage, and how the law can be used as a practical tool to address the inequality experienced by women and girls; inequality that includes, for example, sexual violence, the feminization of HIV/AIDS, and the inability to own property.
We work with grass roots women and girls to better understand the impact of the experience of inequality, and to ensure that the law works in ways that they believe will empower them most effectively.
We identify people with expertise in the area of inequality that is targeted for change by the equality effect (in addition to grass roots women and girls, who always have expertise), and recruit those experts to equality teams. The equality teams explore how to develop the most effective strategic plans to achieve social justice for women and girls.
The equality effect creates innovative and original interdisciplinary strategic plans to enforce existing human rights law and achieve social justice for women and girls – this will mean that women and girls can live lives free of violence, free to make their own decisions, for example when to get married, who to marry, etc., and to live lives in which they can choose any occupation they wish, e.g. business, medicine, farming, teaching, politics.
Once it is understood how and why women are disadvantaged by the law, we develop the legal arguments and strategies to enforce human rights law, and claim the safe and healthy spaces for women and girls that they are entitled to under human rights law. The equality effect creates original social justice initiatives using existing international, regional and domestic human rights guarantees to support our legal arguments.
The equality effect creates collaborative teams of experts that work cooperatively to challenge the discrimination being targeted. The equality teams include lawyers (practitioners and law professors), social scientists, front line delivery people i.e. rape crisis workers, grass roots community members, artists, teachers, musicians, public relations advisors, health workers, film makers, journalists and others with experience relevant to the discrimination being targeted for change and/or experience communicating change movements. The collaborative work of the equality teams benefits from the sum of the whole of the team’s expertise.
The equality effect works to create change that will improve the lives of women and girls, and reduce the discrimination that currently restricts their freedom and prosperity. We use strategic equality initiatives to achieve concrete change and the meaningful empowerment of women and girls.
Public Legal Education
The equality effect takes the results of its research into women’s inequality, and uses it to develop unique human rights education campaigns that address the core issues at the heart of the discrimination experienced by women and girls. The goal is to help people re-think their perceptions relating to how women and girls are treated in society, and to talk openly about previously taboo human rights and health issues. The equality effect works with local community groups, schools, churches, health care providers and traditional leaders, to connect with civil society. We use train-the-trainer sessions and develop human rights curricula for schools. We use creative public education strategies, such as flash mobs, radio dramas, poster campaigns, and twitter campaigns that will increase awareness about human rights, and stimulate thought provoking dialogues.
The equality effect supports the enforcement of existing human rights law to ensure that women and girls are not discriminated against, and that they have access to justice. The equality effect is an independent entity that reviews laws for their consistency with existing international, regional and domestic human rights guarantees, and provides insight into how governments can achieve compliance with these existing guarantees. The equality effect mobilizes public support for law reform that is consistent with existing human rights guarantees, and provides the background research to support the legal rationalization for changes that will result in increased respect for the autonomy and dignity of women and girls. Strategies may include the development of background papers for distribution to elected members of government and civil servants, holding information sessions with elected members of government and civil servants, and/or providing training for judges and Crown prosecutors about women’s human rights. The goal is to achieve change to laws and policies that discriminate through the enforcement of existing human rights guarantees so that the promise of women’s human rights is fulfilled.
Test Case Litigation
The equality effect provides educational and networking opportunities to support test case litigation that addresses laws and policies which violate women’s human rights. The goal is to empower women to use the legal system to claim their human rights, and achieve access to justice. Test case litigation involves a court action in which a novel legal question is brought before a judge for the first time, and the judge provides her/his answer to the question – for example, is it a violation of a woman’s human rights for the state to allow for marital rape, and provide no legal protection for wives from husbands that rape? Or is it a violation of a girl’s human rights for the state to fail to protect her from forced marriage, or to fail to protect an elderly, health care provider from being burned as a witch? The goal is to tell women’s stories in court, to help transform the way that courts understand women’s inequality, and to achieve judicial decisions that a law or policy must conform to existing human rights guarantees so as to eradicate any discrimination against women and girls.
THE AFRICAN-CANADIAN CONNECTION
Both Canada and the equality effect’s African partners were colonized by Britain, and as a result share a common legal legacy – a legacy that is characterized by laws that are often sexist in their roots, and disadvantage women. Women in Canada and in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, continue to experience the oppression that is the result of this legal legacy. In Canada, the impact of this legacy is especially significant for Aboriginal women.
Canada has had a head start using human rights law to achieve equality for women (Canada gained independence in 1867, and secured equality provisions in its Constitution in 1985). At the express request of the African partners working with the equality effect, the Canadian experience with substantive equality is used as the reference for the equality effect’s work. Canada has been a leader in the development of women`s rights, although there is still lots of equality work to be done in Canada.
Women and girls in Africa experience some of the most appalling human rights abuses in the world today, and resources to support equality work are scarce. There is not the time or the money to reinvent the equality wheel, so the Canadian experience (what has worked and what hasn’t worked) provides the initial reference for change.
Using the Canadian experience with women’s human rights as the reference for the equality work provides the opportunity to analyze the progress made in the Canadian equality context, and the lack of progress. It provides the opportunity to apply critical thinking to what’s happened in Canada, and to think about how women’s continued inequality, especially in the context of Aboriginal women who have experienced the brunt of colonization, can be addressed. The work is reciprocal, and the benefits are mutual in nature.
BENEFITS OF THE EQUALITY EFFECT
By using the law to protect and promote women`s human rights, women and girls will experience concrete change in their lives, change that will have long term, meaningful effect. Eradicating discrimination in the law can have revolutionary results. Making the law consistent with existing human rights guarantees will result in increased safety and security for women, improved health, and improved economic well being. It also results in symbolic change that helps to educate civil society about common values, and influence public opinion to respect women and girls as full citizens of society – women and girls will be recognized as persons, not property. The benefit of the equality effect is that it helps to establish a culture of state accountability for women’s human rights, and to ensure that women and girls are empowered to be the authors of their own lives.
The benefit of the equality effect includes, for example, that girls will not be subjected to female genital mutilation, that girls can go to school regardless of whether they are menstruating, that girls can go to school and not be sexually harassed and raped, that girls can graduate from school and choose any profession they like, that women will not be treated as property in their marriages and that husbands will not have a legal license to rape their wives, that women with HIV/AIDS will not be forced from their homes and communities, that women will not be afraid to leave their homes because of fear of rape as a tool of political violence, that women can inherit their husbands’ property and own their own property, that women will not be forced into prostitution because they have no property rights, that women can run for public office without the threat of violence, that women and girls will be assured access to justice.
The benefit of the equality effect outside of Africa is that in a globalized world, the advancement of women’s equality in one geographic context, improves the status of all women. Additionally, the collaborative and comparative nature of the equality effect’s work provides for the introduction of fresh perspectives to issues that disadvantage all women, issues that remain unresolved in the northern context despite years of attention, and issues that benefit from the application of new strategies and fresh thinking. The networks developed through the equality effect operate to inject new energy to equality projects in the north that can benefit from the introduction of new ideas and original critiques, for example relating to violence against women. The equality effect’s African partners also bring advanced human rights expertise that is beneficial to equality work in the Canadian context. For example, the progress made by the equality effect’s African partners relating to the reconciliation of customary law and women’s rights provides useful guidance in addressing these issues in the Canadian Aboriginal and diaspora context. The mutuality and reciprocity of the work is key to the success of the equality effect.