Do more empowered citizens make more accountable states? Power and legitimacy in legal empowerment initiatives in Kenya and South Africa
MAVC Research Report
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Many marginalised groups face difficulties in accessing essential services, such as housing, health care and water – even though their rights to these services are enshrined in international and often in national laws. Civil society organisations and lawyers in several countries are using legal channels to address this, and ensure that citizens are able to claim services to which they are legally entitled.
This research report uses four cases studies, two each from Kenya and South Africa, to examine the different approaches that organisations use to improve citizens’ access to services. These cases are Hakijamii, which works to help people realise their socioeconomic rights in Kenya; the Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme in Nairobi, which helps sex workers (and others) obtain access to healthcare and challenge criminal charges; Ndifuna Ukwazi, which tackles spatial inequality and segregation around land and housing in Cape Town; and the Witzenberg Rural Development Center, which provides advice on human rights issues. Drawing on these cases, the research considers how the organisations use legal discourse, frameworks and mechanisms to empower citizens, and how the state responds when groups and organisations engage with it. The findings show how citizen empowerment is achieved in many ways. The organisations studied provide education about and raise awareness of citizens’ rights and entitlements; provide information on how to access and reach those in power; and support those pursuing legal challenges.