My aspiration as a public interest lawyer is really very simple — it is to let the sunshine of law lighten up every corner of our life.

Acceptance speech – Guo Jianmei

(The speech was delivered by Karen Tse of International Bridges to Justice, who represented Guo at the Award Presentation)

As Guo Jianmei once stated – “Law in China is a “sleeping beauty”. If China’s laws were implemented more efficiently, there could be great improvements regarding the state of women’s rights and interests.”

Indeed, this is a worldwide problem; these issues are common to us all. At International Bridges to Justice, a global organization that works to prevent torture and protect people’s due process rights, we support lawyers around the world who courageously show up in police stations, courtrooms, and bring their light into the darkest corners of prisons. They have the prophetic imagination to create a new future. We may not see these lawyers, we may not hear their names, but they are with us today as we all celebrate the leadership of Guo Jianmei in the global movement for justice.

In the words of a defender in solidarity, ‘Take courage friends, the road is often long, the path is never clear, the stakes are very high. But deep now (down?) there is another truth, you are not alone.’

On behalf of Guo Jianmei, it is my pleasure to be able to read her message to you all tonight:

Dear friends and fellow 2019 Right Livelihood Award Laureates,

This Right Livelihood Award recognises and acknowledges the efforts of my team and me to uphold women’s rights and the rule of law in China for the past 25 years. Currently, pro bono legal work in China is facing enormous challenges. This award serves as an encouragement and motivation.

In any society, the state of women’s liberation is the natural yardstick of universal liberation. Ever since the Fourth World Conference on Women took place in Beijing in 1995, China has indeed achieved progress in the protection of women’s rights. Yet, there is much that we can do together to address issues arising from deeply rooted traditional cultural norms and discrimination within the justice system.

Myself and my team are committed to the vision of ‘Living a life for public interest, advancing gender equality through law’. Striving to protect the rights and interests of disadvantaged women through legal aid, the centre supports women in solving their challenges from unique and innovative perspectives. Our work integrates three core aspects to reach this goal: women’s rights, legal aid, and the development of non-governmental organisations.

During its 24 years of operation, the centre has created a unique civic model of pro bono legal aid. The centre has carried out a series of pro bono activities, such as free legal counselling services nationwide, legal aid and pro bono litigation, initiating the network of Chinese public interest lawyers, establishing the Training and Practice Center for Public Interest Lawyers, and driving the implementation and improvement of legal policies related to women’s rights and interests.

Meanwhile, behind all these achievements are immense challenges and difficulties. The perception that we are outside of the system hinders the dialogue and collaboration between the government, society and ourselves. The overall lack of gender awareness, legal awareness, public service and social responsibility in the society subjects our work to all sorts of misunderstandings and even threats.

Shortages of funds and talent pose serious challenges for our work personally and institutionally, as regulations are not in place, even the institutions on which these lawyers depend, are hampered by fundraising challenges.

We believe, if we are to improve the situation, we should learn to seize opportunities amidst challenges and strive for the advancement and professionalisation of public interest lawyers. Firstly, we should raise the overall level of gender awareness, and the sense of public service and social responsibility in our society.

Public interest lawyers and governments should be in dialogue and communication to further mutual understanding, trust and collaboration, creating a harmonious institutional environment for disadvantaged groups.

We should by all means continuously cultivate and recruit legal talents, converging forces and collectively advancing the development of pro bono legal services towards sustainability, high-efficiency, public interest and professionalism.

My aspiration as a public interest lawyer is really very simple — it is to let the sunshine of law lighten up every corner of our life.

I am honoured by this Award and the recognition of the years of dedicated work by our team and network of public interest Lawyers across China.

Thank you.