Legal literacy

‘Know Your Rights’ campaigns empower key and vulnerable populations to understand and protect their health and human rights.

Legal literacy programmes aim to empower vulnerable and key populations with an increased knowledge of national and local laws and their rights, and ways to seek redress for human rights violations, including discrimination in health care settings. Legal literacy programmes can focus both on legal and rights knowledge as well as strategies on how to use this knowledge to improve health and justice. They can form part of other services (e.g. health care services, prevention outreach services, peer education, support groups) or can be stand-alone programmes. UNDP supports countries to develop legal literacy programmes that empower vulnerable and key populations to access justice for human rights violations and promote an enabling legal and policy environment for their access to health care services. Programmes may include:

  • Telephone hotlines;
  • Broad-based communication campaigns (e.g. TV, radio, print, internet);
  • Community mobilisation and education; and
  • Peer outreach and education services for networks of vulnerable and key populations such as adolescent girls and young women, young people, people living with HIV, gay men and men who have sex with men, transgender persons, sex workers, people who use drugs, migrants and prisoners, amongst others.
Case Study: Kenyan sex worker legal literacy campaigns help to reduce violence and increase access to justice for sex workers

In Kenya, the Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme began as a group of sex workers and bar hostesses working together against HIV, violence and exploitation. The civil society organisation has grown to provide a number of services, including legal literacy and legal support services to protect and empower sex workers. The organisation has supported increased awareness of rights and promoted access to justice through, amongst other things:

  • Training sex worker peer educators on law, human rights and access to justice, enabling them to act as paralegals to provide legal advice, counselling and support to other sex workers ;
  • Working with the media to raise awareness of sex workers’ rights and to reduce discrimination and violence;
  • Establishing a forum to bring sex workers and police together to foster mutual understanding and respect for rights;
  • Monitoring and documenting human rights violations against sex workers, particularly by health workers and police;
  • Establishing a quarterly legal aid clinic where sex workers can get advice from lawyers;
  • Supporting sex workers to claim redress in the courts for wrongful arrests and violations of their rights.

Learn more: UNAIDS 2017 Confronting Discrimination: Overcoming HIV-Related Stigma and Discrimination in Health Care Settings and Beyond

Case Study: Legal literacy to advocate for prisoners’ health rights in South Africa

In 2013, due to a treatment stockout in a South African prison, prisoners were left without antiretroviral and TB medication for many days. The situation posed a grave risk to their health and the possibility of their developing drug resistance.

When prisoners are empowered and know their health rights, they are able to advocate for the health care they need to survive. Siyanakekela Support Group, a prison support group providing education and support to prisoners, was made aware of the situation and the impact on prisoners’ health rights. After internal negotiations failed, it reached out to partner with external non-governmental organisations, for more effective advocacy.

Working with Sonke Gender Justice and Section 27, Siyanakekela was able to effectively pressure prison and health authorities – including through the threat of litigation – to provide prisoners with the necessary HIV and TB treatment. Through their success, Siyanakekela Support Group recognised the importance of legal literacy in empowering the prisoners to mobilise and enforce their right to HIV and TB treatment. Providing vulnerable populations with knowledge of their rights helped to hold the relevant authorities accountable to the required standard by the very communities they are constitutionally required to serve.

Legal Literacy and COVID-19 related rights

Legal literacy, or ‘Know Your Rights’ programmes and campaigns focused on HIV, TB and malaria can be widened to add simple, user-friendly information on COVID-19 services, the rights of persons diagnosed with COVID-19, the rights of those who are isolated or quarantined, and the rights of health workers. See the Global Fund (2020) COVID-19 Guidance Note: Human Rights in the Time of COVID-19 for additional guidance.