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Playing a part in promoting a gender equal world

To mark International Women’s Day, we take a look at how our pro bono work is driving change for women around the world

Through the Human Rights Working Group, an international network of our people led by partner Andrew Denny, we’ve taken on a number of pro bono projects over the past year that seek to tackle sexual and gender-based violence.

Access to sexual and reproductive health rights in conflict zones

Elaine Johnston has led a substantial piece of research for the Center for Reproductive Rights (the Center) – an organisation that uses the law to advance these fundamental human rights around the world.

Conducted by 19 A&O lawyers from across the U.S., UK and Europe, with associate Arpita Ashok and pro bono lawyer Kristin Bong coordinating the team, the research supports a growing area of work for the Center, focussing on access to sexual and reproductive health rights in conflict zones – in particular whether effective legal mechanisms exist to enforce those rights.

A&O’s report covered 16 countries across Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, and found that, while international and domestic legal mechanisms do exist to promote sexual and reproductive health rights, this accountability on paper is often at odds with the prevalence of violations on the ground and the experiences of the victims.

We continue to support the Center with research relating to the role of the UN Security Council in holding countries accountable for violations of sexual and reproductive health rights in conflict areas.

Treatment of women prisoners in five African countries

A team from New York, Munich, Hong Kong, London and Frankfurt, led by senior counsel Caroline Lapidus, has been working in partnership with our client BNY Mellon to provide support for the New York-based Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, which provides pro bono legal representation to social justice organisations as part of the Center’s “Women In Prison, Evidence and Advocacy Reform” project.

The A&O and BNYM teams analysed survey results for a Vance Center report on the treatment of women prisoners in The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania. The report indicates that some, but not all, of the regional and international standards established for incarcerated women are being met.

The report also provides recommendations to governments, NGOs and donors to better understand conditions for women in prison and the impact of prison on women and their children, as well as ways to improve prison conditions to take into account women’s particular needs and characteristics.

The first case brought against the Government of South Sudan for sexual violence against women

We are supporting Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) in launching a landmark case against the Government of South Sudan for use of sexual violence by its army during the country’s six-year conflict.

This was the first ever complaint brought against the Government of South Sudan before the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Geneva. It outlines the brutal sexual violence, slavery, torture and gang rape used against 30 women and girls during attacks on their villages and while they were attempting to flee the violent conflict between 2016 and 2017.

For the survivors, the case has already had impact well beyond the filing of the complaint. The survivors have formed an advocacy and support group that regularly meets, and their unofficial leader, Joycelyn Ayer (pseudonym), has become an outspoken defender of human rights. Through the pursuit of justice, they have found  healing and through their community they have obtained empowerment. 

The work is on-going and follows a grant of nearly GBP50,000 from the A&O Foundation in 2017.

Free legal help for women living in poverty in New York City

A&O has been recognised by Her Justice, a non-profit organisation providing free legal help to women living in poverty in New York City, for our work supporting Her Justice clients. Experienced Her Justice staff lawyers provide intensive training and mentoring to volunteer lawyers from more than 80 law firms and corporations so they can best use their skills to address the critical concerns of families in crisis in New York City.

A&O associates work on a variety of Her Justice cases ranging from immigration to domestic and family court issues. In one recent case an A&O team represented a Her Justice client in connection with her immigration application pursuant to the Violence Against Women Act on behalf of herself and her son.

In 2020 a team of two A&O associates concluded their representation of a low-income single mother who was embroiled in a custody and child support battle with her daughter’s father with whom she had lived for years in an abusive environment. These are just some examples of the many Her Justice cases taken on by A&O associates that have made a huge difference in their clients’ lives.

Read more about the Center, among other pro bono and community investment projects, in the latest edition of Increasing Access.

Read the latest edition of the Business and Human Rights Review which covers how human rights are relevant to businesses, law societies and climate change.