Bringing Justice to Health: Legal Empowerment of Marginalised Groups Facilitates Greater Access to Health Services and Rights

A new report launched recently by the Open society Foundation (OSF) examines how legal empowerment projects for various marginalised groups (including sex workers) have changed access to health services.

Bringing Justice to Health(PDF) outlines 11 pilot programmes in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Macedonia and Russia that are bridging the divide between human rights and access to health services. 

'The report documents a number of compelling contributions to the advancement of health and human rights around the world, complementing many initiatives undertaken in support of the  Millennium Development Goals by UNDP and other partners. In particular, it shows the effectiveness of accessible justice delivery models built from the ground up, empowering marginalized individuals to raise their voices, exercise their rights, and hold decision-makers accountable,’ Olav Kjørven, Assistant Secretary-General Director, Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP, said in the summary.

It also highlights how legal empowerment projects that engage with marginalised communities helps improve their social conditions. Sex workers, drug users and persons living with HIV were a particular focus for this report. ‘This publication profiles legal empowerment projects that engage with these marginalized communities, equipping them with  information about their rights and responsibilities and the tools they can use to improve their social condition,’ the report said.

Accessing health care services by marginalised groups is often hindered due to stigma, discrimination, availability or ignorance. Further, there have been reported cases of human rights abuses experienced by marginalised persons when accessing such services. ‘Human rights violations compromise the health of marginalized communities, impeding their access to health care and undermining the underlying factors affecting their health,’ the report noted.

However, with legal support and critical empowerment training as paralegals, for example, marginalised individuals were able to access legal support services and make significant contributions to their social well-being. Furthermore, it has been noted that these developments have led to a ‘change in attitudes’ of stakeholders such as the police.

“It’s all about recognizing that every human being has rights. One of the most important of these rights is access to health,” says OSF Law and Health Initiative director Ralf Jürgens in an IRIN report.

The report can be accessed here.