Considering strategic litigation as an advocacy tool: a case study of the defence of reproductive rights in Colombia

Reprod Health Matters. 2014 Nov;22(44):31-41. doi: 10.1016/S0968-8080(14)44804-3.


Women's Link Worldwide developed a test to determine when an environment is conducive to social change through strategic litigation. We first present our understanding of strategic litigation, and then discuss four conditions for successful and sustainable change using strategic litigation: (1) an existing rights framework; (2) an independent and knowledgeable judiciary; (3) civil society organizations with the capacity to frame social problems as rights violations and to litigate; and (4) a network able to support and leverage the opportunities presented by litigation. Next, we present examples from our work in Colombia that show how analysis of these conditions informed our litigation strategy when confronting a powerful public official who opposes reproductive rights. Two litigation strategies were adopted. The first case was not successful in the courts, but allowed us to introduce our message and build support amongst civil society. The second case built on this momentum and resulted in a victory. Strategic litigation is a powerful tool to advance rights as well as hold governments accountable and ensure compliance with human rights obligations. The strategies developed can be adapted for use in other contexts. We hope they inspire others to protect and promote reproductive rights through strategic litigation when women cannot fully enjoy their rights.

Keywords: Colombia; abortion; advocacy; public interest; reproductive rights; sexual and reproductive health and rights; sexual rights; social change; strategic litigation; strategies.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Colombia
  • Consumer Advocacy*
  • Criminal Law
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproductive Rights / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Social Change
  • Social Support