SDG-Enabling Law Reform Drive

Dilum Abeysekera • 26 December 2017

SDG-Enabling Law Reform Drive - a pro bono initiative 

Knowledge partners:  

UN SDSN | International Bar Association - Pro Bono Committee | Orrick LLP | 

LexEcon Consulting Group

​Certain elements of the legal and regulatory frameworks of developing countries pose a considerable (perhaps the biggest) impediment to successfully implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ​

The SDGs-enabling Law Reform Drive is a global initiative launched by courtesy of a consortium of international law firms. We help developing countries undertake law reforms aimed at enabling effective implementation of the SDGs through their national action plans. Web: 

What is law reform?

Law reform or legal reform is the process of analyzing current laws and advocating and carrying out changes in a legal system, usually with the aim of enhancing justice or efficiency. 

​There are four main methods of reforming the law: (a) repeal (removal or reversal of a law), (b) creation of new law, (c) consolidation (combination of a number of statutes into one) and (d) codification (collection and systematic arrangement, usually by subject, of the laws of a state or country).

Why law reform matters for achieving the SDGs?

The implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is led by UN Member States and its success will depend on their own development policies, plans and programs. The National Action Plans for SDGs implementation are mainly informed by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

Certain elements of the legal and regulatory frameworks of developing countries pose a sizeable impediment to successful implementation of the SDGs. The fact that legal provisions for securing a multitude of rights are enshrined in a national or state legal system does not necessarily mean that people are in a position to use them for their benefit. Legal systems in most developing countries are constrained by a range of factors that deter empowerment, for instance, the absence or lack of effective laws, constraints on access to courts, lack of legal awareness as well as legal assistance.

We believe that an enabling legal framework is a precondition for achieving Sustainable Development Goals at the national level. 

The following SDGs, targets and indicators specifically refer to the importance of undertaking legal and regulatory reforms:

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

5.a   Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.


5.a.2: Proportion of countries where the legal framework (including customary law) guarantees women's equal rights to land ownership and/or control

5.1.1: Whether or not legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex.

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

10.3 Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard

10.5 Improve the regulation and monitoring of global financial markets and institutions and strengthen the implementation of such regulations

Some instances of situations that would warrant effecting SDG-enabling law revisions and reforms:

(a) The Women, Business and the Law (WBL) program of the World Bank has found that:

• Legal gender differences are widespread: 155 of the 173 economies covered have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities.

• The total number of legal gender differences across 173 economies is 943.

• In 100 economies, women face gender-based job restrictions.

• 46 of the economies covered have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence.

• In 18 economies, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.

• Lower legal gender equality is associated with fewer girls attending secondary school relative to boys, fewer women working or running businesses and a wider gender wage gap.

• Over the past two years, 65 economies carried out 94 reforms increasing women’s economic opportunities.

(World Bank Group. 2015. Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal. Washington, DC: World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-1-4648-0677-3. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO)

​In such a context, providing support for effecting law reform to address gender equality would help countries achieve SDG 5.

(b) The World Investment Report 2017 points out, there is a need for aligning national investment policies with digital development strategies to meet the enormous investment challenges of the 2030 agenda on sustainable development . Meeting these challenges in the digital economy involves reforming the International Investment Agreements (IIAs) and investment laws (United Nations Conference of Trade and Development – UNCTAD. 2017. World Investment Report 2017).

(c) The Global ICT Regulatory Outlook - 2017 including the ICT Regulatory Tracker of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) maps where regulation is currently helpful (enabling) or unhelpful (blocking) for digitalization of a country’s priority sectors – or where necessary policies and regulations are missing.

Guide to implementing SDG-enabling law reforms

LEEG-net team has developed an outline of a human rights-based blueprint - the “Temple of UN Global Goals” that seeks to help realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by leveraging the human rights foundation of SDGs through legal empowerment of the people including the poor and vulnerable groups. This blueprint promotes legal empowerment of people through eight forms of rights depicted by the pillars of the Temple, namely, gender equality, property rights, contract rights, business rights, labor rights, right to an effective remedy, right to information, and the right to development (including environmental concerns).

​For more information, please see the attached infographic and click on the links.

Please feel free to contact us with your comments and questions!

[Photo credit: Shareef Taliparamba (Vegetable Market, Melur) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons]