Today, what is particularly pertinent is the growing judicialization of Sexual Reproductive Rights (SRR) around the world. At the domestic and international level, courts have emerged as central arenas in these political-moral battles; and not only to further rights but also to limit them. In this context, Centre on Law and Social Transformation in partnership with the Centre for Law and Policy Research will engage in a project that examines various strategies civil society organisations (CSOs) use to advance SRR. The aim of the project is to understand the nature, causes and, particularly, the consequences of such diverse and intentional strategies adopted by civil society actors that seek to engage legal institutions in order to further or halt policy reform and social change.
This blog post will provide a brief analysis that was a result of the preliminary discussions we had with a few organisations that constantly engage with the law in various ways to advance Sexual and Reproductive Rights (SRR). The key objectives behind these initial interviews were to get an understanding of the working of these CSOs, establish contact for more detailed interviews and to get a broad sense of how the law is being used to advance sexual and reproductive rights. Although these CSOs are invested in the same issue i.e. that of SRR, they have different approaches to the problem. Three strategies emerged from these interviews – Networking, Crisis Intervention and Use of the Law.
To explain all three strategies, let us consider a case that these organisations often come across in their work. Suppose a victim of domestic violence approaches an organisation, after having been abused/ mistreated in any way, a legal case will be built. This case will have two major steps – crisis intervention and litigation. Organisations that primarily work using a crisis intervention model support the victim in entirety i.e. from finding legal aid to finding a rehabilitation or support home till a permanent solution is found. For litigation, if they need lawyers or legal support of some kind, they approach organisations that provide free legal aid for support in whatever capacity possible. In turn, for litigating organisations, the networks they have established with the former organisation help them in getting legal cases in the first place. Therefore, for CSOs that work primarily on-ground, networkssuch as these define the way their work gets done. Networking doesn’t necessarily mean networks between organisations alone; it can also be built with government institutions and people who need support from these organisations. For instance, one of the organisations we interviewed visited the central jail in Bengaluru repeatedly for research purpose but in this process they built a strong network with the inmates and are currently legally representing economically weak prisoners on trial.
There are other ways apart from litigation alone, where organisations utilise law. CSOs are either engaged directly with the law or use law in their work i.e. litigation or legal policy research that facilitates advocacy. There are organisations that also educate students at all levels on existing laws and acts relating to SRR to bring about awareness. These also have a pool of organisations/ legal experts they rely on when they are posed with legal challenges. What is very interesting is that these CSOs heavily rely on quasi-judiciary bodies such as the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR) or State Women’s Commission (SWC) to pass orders that would help move their cases faster in courts. The existence of quasi-judiciary bodies has in fact made utilisation of the law more effective for CSOs.
Awareness of these strategies is important to analyse the same. Why is analysing these strategies useful? It will particularly help in two aspects: one, it will help in advancing the broader field of socio-legal studies concerned with law and social transformation conceptually, methodologically and empirically. Two, understanding these strategies will help review how these strategies play a role in bringing about social change on the ground, in better implementation of sexual and reproductive rights. One of the most important insights we gained is that while many CSOs work on violence against women there is no real articulation of sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls. A first step would thus be to recognise these rights and incorporate SRR specifically into the work done on women’s rights protection on the ground.