Western Law students gained valuable insights into gender issues in international humanitarian and human rights law – and helped shape the global conversation – while volunteering on a project for UN Women.
The 10 students, who worked as researchers for the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, summarized and applied gender-sensitive analysis to recent United Nations commission of inquiry reports on Syria, Yemen, Burundi and South Sudan.
It was the first time a Canadian law school has partnered with UN Women to offer this type of opportunity to law students.
“The experience deepened my knowledge of unique gender-based issues which often go unacknowledged in reporting and analysis of global conflicts,” said first-year law student Michael Juranka.
“It gave me the opportunity to apply the analytical skills I’ve learned in the classroom in the service of a worthy cause.”
While it was “harrowing” to read about the toll the conflict is having on the Syrian population, “it was exciting to be meaningfully involved at the critical stage of reporting,” Juranka said.
The project aimed to expose law students to gender-sensitive analysis and the important work UN Women does in combatting gender discrimination.
“My goal was to provide our students with hands-on experience researching timely international legal issues involving serious human rights abuses in countries under consideration by the UN Human Rights Council,” said professor Valerie Oosterveld, who managed the project with assistance from third-year law student Rebecca Ro.
Although the students could not gather in person, Oosterveld said the online environment “was perfect for them to collaborate on this important research for UN Women.”
The students’ summary reports were disseminated to UN Women investigators and country offices to increase collection of gender-disaggregated data and improve gender analysis in future reports.
“With their research, the Western Law students made an important contribution to UN Women’s work on accountability for women’s rights violations,” said Emily Kenney, UN Women’s policy specialist on transitional justice.
“Most recently, we used two of the summaries in background documents we prepared for Security Council members in their deliberations on South Sudan and Yemen – the students’ work has helped to shape the discussion about women’s and girls’ rights in these countries,” Kenney said.
Student volunteer Shakila Salem said working on the Commissions of Inquiry project was “an empowering experience. Our gender-sensitive analysis helped bring gender issues to the forefront and will hopefully make a real impact on future investigative reports.”
The student volunteers wrapped up the project by sharing their experiences with fellow Western Law students at a March 2021 virtual roundtable discussion.
Oosterveld said Kenney from UN Women was an invaluable resource for the project. The 10 student participants were: first-year law students Sarah Chen, Kshemani Constantinescu, Hannah Downard, Michelle Galati, Karen Hakim, Sydney Hansen, Juranka and Olivia Moore, and second-year law students Megan Hamilton and Salem.