Based in Cape Town, South Africa, the Women's Legal Centre (WLC) is a non-profit, independent law centre that seeks to achieve equality for women in South Africa. "As access to justice is largely inaccessible to poor women, particularly black women," the WLC litigates in their interest and provides them with access to free legal advice. The WLC has a vision of women in South Africa living free from violence in safe housing, free to own their own share of property, empowered to ensure their own reproductive health rights, and able to work in a safe and equal environment.

Communication Strategies: 

WLC draws on a number of communication tools and approaches to advocate for women. One illustrative example is activities carried out as part of the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence in 2013:

  • WLC kicked off this series of events with a workshop exploring harmful cultural and religious practices in Mhlanga, a village in Mpumalanga. At the workshop, the local women spoke of practices that are affecting them negatively - especially those carried out without the woman's consent.
  • In Delft, Cape Town, WLC participated in a workshop that aimed to educate senior citizens about domestic violence and their human rights. The elderly had the opportunity to ask questions based on their daily experiences. Representatives from the Department of Local Government, Social Development, Department of Justice, and the WLC clarified the issues and offered guidance as to where the elderly could go when they find themselves in need of assistance.
  • WLC partnered with the Commission for Gender Equality and other civil society organisations to launch a proposal advocating for extensive reforms on behalf of shelters housing abused women and their children.
  • CTV invited WLC to participate in a televised discussion: "Gender Based Violence and the Law".
  • At a South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) meeting in Johannesburg, WLC gave a presentation on how decriminalising sex work could: allow easier access to healthcare for sex workers; curb the violation of sex workers' human rights; and minimise violence against sex workers.
  • In Khayelitsha, WLC spoke about customary marriages vs. civil marriages and described the Domestic Violence Act and the protection it offers.
  • WLC spoke on community radio stations in all the provinces in South Africa about cultural and religious practices that cause harm to women. Women were also told about the pro bono services offered by the WLC.
  • In London, United Kingdom (UK), WLC had a presence at the Trust for Women Conference, where the Human Rights Law Network has committed to launch The Global Legal Network to End Coerced and Forced Sterilization. The project will assess the scale of the issue worldwide and develop a database of laws pertaining to it. The WLC is one of the organisations that will be providing assistance.

To focus on one area in which WLC works, in collaboration with sex worker organisations, WLC began by offering weekly group workshops on human rights to sex workers. This aspect of WLC's work soon expanded, employing 4 former and current sex workers as paralegals. The benefits of peer-based legal assistance are clear, says a paralegal named Ncumisa. "We know the industry. It is easy to communicate freely without fear of being stigmatized since we share similar experiences in their line of duty." Anita, another paralegal, agrees. "It is very important because we understand the difficulties and obstacles that sex workers encounter on a daily basis. We personally know how violent police can be towards sex workers, so we can offer advice."

 

To do community outreach, WLC paralegals partner with the counseling and advocacy organisation Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce. They provide male, female, and transgender sex workers with legal information and advice, and assist with court hearings, bail applications, and filing complaints about police abuse. "For two weeks we do day and night outreach where we find them in the hot spots. Then weekday mornings for two weeks we do follow-ups. We give legal advice, and help them with protection orders and lodging complaints to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. And we do a 24 hour helpline," says Ncumisa.

 

The WLC website provides more details about WLC's work as well as access to various cases and general information, such as the report "Bringing Justice to Health: The Impact of Legal Empowerment Projects on Public Health", a summary of which is available (see Related Summaries below).

Development Issues: 

Women, Rights, Health.

Key Points: 

According to organisers, sex work is criminalised in South Africa, and sex workers face routine harassment, intimidation, and abuse from police. Police use municipal laws against loitering, solicitation, and drunken behaviour to threaten arrest or detain sex workers "for days at a time. And many are released only after paying large fines. Police use these tactics, in large measure, because convictions for sex work are difficult to achieve. Few clients want to risk self-incrimination by testifying."

Partner Text: 

Supported by the Open Society Foundations.

Source: 

"Legal Help for Sex Workers-from Sex Workers", by David Scamell, March 5 2013 - accessed January 27 2014; and WLC website, accessed January 27 2014. Image credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation