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Closing the justice gap with research on legal empowerment

February 21, 2023

More than half of the world’s population is excluded from opportunities the rule of law provides, and 1.5 billion people cannot access support to resolve justice problems. IDRC supports research on legal empowerment strategies to address this growing justice gap and to promote vibrant civic spaces.

These strategies generally shift away from traditional models that involve lawyers, judges and courts to focus instead on community paralegals who help people understand and claim their rights. Many community-based justice strategies originated during earlier struggles to establish and strengthen democracy, for instance in South Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Indonesia and the Philippines. IDRC-supported research assesses how such strategies can promote the respect for rights that is central to flourishing civic space and accountable governance despite challenges such as weakening political institutions and inequitable responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Following an open and competitive call for proposals, IDRC invested CAD5.8 million in eight research teams that are leading a people-centred examination of community-based justice approaches in 13 countries, to strengthen democracy and protect human rights. In 2022, IDRC awarded an additional CAD1.7 million grant to three new research teams in Latin America, bringing the total to 11 research teams in 16 countries. Four of these teams will also serve as regional hubs (in West Africa, East and southern Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America) to link the research findings to broader learning and collective action in the legal empowerment community of practice.   

This research will contribute knowledge and evidence to a larger learning agenda on legal empowerment that is supported by IDRC partners Namati and the Legal Empowerment Network. The learning agenda focuses the efforts of hundreds of organizations on a set of common questions and comparative learning to address collective knowledge gaps. They seek to learn how grassroots legal empowerment strategies such as transforming institutions, achieving progressive policy reforms and addressing the structural causes of inequality and exclusion can change systems.   

Read about the projects in the Closing the Justice Gap initiative:

Namati and the Legal Empowerment Network will act as the global knowledge hub for this initiative. In collaboration with the regional hubs, they will coordinate shared learning efforts across the projects and organize joint activities at key points in the research process.