Making the law relevant for all

A one day seminar on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor (LEP) was held at the Nordic Africa Institute on Monday 12 December. The aim of the seminar was to take the report "Making the Law Work for Everyone" by the Albright-de Soto Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor as a point of departure for a discussion on the relevance of a LEP approach for research.

Representatives from Sida and the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs were invited to the seminar to broaden the discussion and find avenues for bridging the gap between research and policy. NAI researchers Eva Tobisson and Jenny Cadstedt, from the rural and urban research clusters respectively, organized the seminar in collaboration with Anna-Karin Bergman and Ellen Hillbom, researchers at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS). Also invited was Allan Larsson, former Minister of Finance, Sweden, and member of the Albright-de Soto Commission. In his presentation he introduced the core elements of the report and emphasized the importance of research in areas of relevance for LEP.

The report states that “four billion people around the world are robbed of the chance to better their lives and climb out of poverty, because they are excluded from the rule of law”; and that “(L)egal empowerment can only be realised through systemic change aimed at unlocking the civic and economic potential of the poor. The Commission’s agenda includes: access to justice and the rule of law, property rights, labour rights, and ‘business rights’. These four pillars reinforce and rely on each other.”

– The report is important for research as it presents an integrated approach to poverty and exclusion. Researchers in general are often interested in studying elements found in only one of the pillars outlined in the report. But the report clearly shows the advantages of looking at the whole picture. It therefore encourages interdisciplinary research. What research can add to the report is providing empirical evidences, explanations as to why people are poor in different contexts and situations, says Eva Tobisson. In her research, she is studying livelihood strategies and entitlement systems applied by women and men who experience poverty in coastal communities in Eastern Zanzibar.

Is it possible to apply the report’s definition of the poor when doing research?
– It is true that there are many dimensions of poverty and therefore of a concept such as ‘the poor’. But I would argue that the report, thanks to taking into account different aspects of poverty as illustrated in the four pillars, covers many aspects of poverty. The report makes it clear that it is only people themselves who can improve their situation through the means of the rule of law. Similarly people need to see the value of making use of the tools that the rule of law provides.

How can one sustain the benefits of ‘informality’ while improving the legal empowerment of poor people?
– The report acknowledges the existence and importance of informal structures and arrangements in society, since the livelihoods of people who live in poverty are dependent on these. It also takes a balanced approach as it argues that a solution has to be unique for each country and context. Informality serves a purpose in many ways. Look at the resources that poor people have access to, such as a piece of land. A piece of land can be used by many people. Somebody might use the plot to grow food crops, others to collect firewood or for livestock grazing. If you formalize ownership to that piece of land, it is very likely that only one person will become entitled to it. Therefore it is crucial that informal systems like this are not lost, but that the advantages of formalization are added to the already existing informal structures.

How can NAI and LUCSUS collaborate on this topic in the future?
– The seminar showed that we have many common interests and we will maintain a dialogue, particularly as regards research on property rights. It is also important that we continue doing research that is of relevance for policymaking and that we make space for common venues for debate and discussion between research and policy.

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