March 2, 2016

The LAWA Program: Expanding Horizons for Women’s Rights

In an effort to combat human rights abuses in Africa, Jamesina King and Alice Kinyua made their way from their home countries of Sierra Leone and Kenya to Georgetown Law.

These women participated in the Leadership & Advocacy for Women in Africa (LAWA) Fellowship Program, a part of the Women’s Law & Public Policy Fellowship Program at Georgetown Law. LAWA provides advanced training to African lawyers in women’s human rights so that they may promote the advancement of the status of women and girls in their home countries.

Since the program’s inception in 1993, nearly 100 fellows from over a dozen African countries have participated in the program. 

Promoting Women’s Rights Across Time and Continents

According to the program’s founder, Susan Deller Ross, LAWA was created to share with African lawyers the tools and knowledge that American lawyers have used to make progress in the area of women’s rights.

“If African lawyers could see how women in the United States had advanced women’s rights that might help them in their own struggles,” said Ross, a professor at Georgetown Law.

The program is unique in that instruction is tailored to meet the practical needs and experiences of the LAWA fellows, who bring a great deal to the table, according to Jill Morrison, the executive director of the LAWA program.

“They bring a perspective that is very, very unique. They bring their real world experiences and their expertise, and they are not afraid to share it,” said Morrison.

The 14-month long LAWA program includes the Foundations of American Law and a legal English course, a Master of Laws (LLM), a major thesis on a subject of their choice, and a three-month work assignment during which participants hone their skills at public interest organizations. Fellows also participate in professional development workshops with their U.S. counterparts.

The fellows receive full tuition scholarships from Georgetown Law. 

Making a Tangible Change in African Law

For Jamesina King, a member of the LAWA graduating class of 2002, the program was instrumental in her ability to impact women’s rights as the first chairperson in the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone.

After the LAWA program, King worked with the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee in Sierra Leone to pass the gender justice laws in 2007, which criminalized domestic violence and sexual harassment, provided equal inheritance distribution of estates, and repealed discriminatory laws. She now continues to promote human and women’s rights as a commissioner in the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, as well as a commissioner in the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“LAWA changed my thinking drastically. It made me see the possibilities in impossible circumstances, and it allowed me to join like-minded Sierra Leoneans and people around the world to transform communities where human rights will be respected and protected,” King said.

LAWA’s graduates go on to make measurable impacts, changing the law and providing advocacy to ameliorate the condition of women across Africa.

“We’re seeing very specific legal changes in place as a result of the activism of these women, and we’re also seeing them setting role models for other women in their societies as they go on to higher places,” Ross said. 

Impacting African Communities

Alice Kinyua, a member of the LAWA class of 2014, said Georgetown’s presence in the heart of Washington, D.C. enriched her personal and professional development.

“Being at the U.S. capital and having the opportunity to visit the Supreme Court, Capitol Hill, and the opportunity to work in Washington, D.C. was an eye opener. I was exposed to many structures and people who have influenced change in children and women’s rights,” said Kinyua.

Kinyua went on to establish a nonprofit, Friends For Justice in Kenya, which addresses juvenile justice and sexual and gender based violence.

“The LAWA program has shaped my career to the direction I have always wanted,” said Kinyua.

For more information about the LAWA program, visit their website.