Agenda and background information


This symposium is part of the ongoing work of the Sexuality Poverty and Law Programme, a four-year programme (2012 – 2016) funded through an Accountable Grant from the UK Department for International Development (DfID). The Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme has been working with partners around the world to explore ways in which sexual rights activists, legal practitioners and donors can effect meaningful change. We know from this work that the impact of legal processes is difficult to measure and that even where legislation has been changed or discrimination and abuse successfully challenged, the benefits may not be sustained or evenly distributed. As global efforts are increasingly focused on the work of lawyers and the power of law to achieve social and economic justice for those marginalised because of their sexual or gender non-conformity, there is an urgent need for more information and critical thinking on the impact of legal challenge on the everyday lives of individuals and the communities affected.


At this critical juncture, this symposium aims to interrogate the changing dynamics of sexual politics by asking: how do law and legal processes translate into lived experience in different socio-economic, political and legal contexts? The symposium aims to critically assess the scope and limitations of the current ‘turn to law’ in the context of sexuality and gender, by bringing together legal practitioners, activists and scholars from around the world to explore different legal pathways and their role in reducing economic and social exclusion.

Key objectives are:

  • To interrogate existing assumptions about the power of law and legal processes to affect change, particularly for marginalized communities, by exploring practical experiences from widely differing perspectives
  • To advance thinking about the relationship between law and sexual rights advocacy by reassessing contemporary legal expressions of sexual orientation, gender identity and other aspects of sexuality.
  • To document evidence of the impact of legal processes on social and economic marginalization, including people’s ability to access basic services, contribute to their communities and build advocacy efforts.
  • To broaden traditional academic platforms of engagement by facilitating dialogue between a wide range of practitioners – lawyers, activists, artists and others – to map out opportunities for collaboration and practical options for policy influencing.

Theme 1: How useful is law for attaining sexual rights?

Legal reform is perceived by many as the most effective way to secure sexual rights and freedom from persecution and exclusion for marginalised communities in the long term. But there is considerable debate over the extent to which legal processes actually address economic and social exclusion, or enable political relations of solidarity with larger human rights agendas, and in what contexts.

This theme aims to address the following questions:

  • Which parts of legal activism are productive and for whom?
  • What are the challenges faced by different communities in response to legal action?
  • How can we measure the impact of legal action?
  • When should we be looking for results? How soon is ‘too soon’?
  • Is legal activism the best use of resources and if not, what are the alternatives?
  • What are the costs and risks?

Theme 2: Practical options: What is the scope for joint working to advance sexual rights?

A wide range of individuals, organizations and institutions at a local, national and transnational level are currently involved in legal processes. However, it is unclear how different stakeholders can or should work towards common legal and developmental goals, particularly in hostile environments. 

This theme aims to explore the following questions:

  • Which community/institutional alliances and linkages have achieved results/failed and why?
  • What are the barriers and enablers for engaging in legal processes?
  • What determines impact, who benefits and how?
  • Who decides which approaches and legal pathways to take?
  • How can individuals and communities be protected from negative consequences of legal actions?