Legal literacy (“Know Your Rights”)

Legal literacy programmes aim to provide affected populations with an increased knowledge of national and local laws and their rights and ways to seek redress for violations. So, 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.

Legal literacy programmes help to remove human rights and gender-related barriers to health care and to support a strengthened legal framework, by empowering communities to access justice for human rights violations.

They include:

  • Broad-based communication campaigns (e.g. TB, radio, print, internet)
  • Peer outreach and education services for networks of people living with HIV, TB and key populations
  • Community mobilization and education, and
  • Telephone hotlines.
Case Study: Kenyan sex worker legal literacy campaigns help to reduce violence and increase access to justice

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.

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

When prisoners are empowered and know their health rights, they are able to advocate for the HIV and TB health care they need to survive.

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.  

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.

Critical Enablers