An Overview of Our Program

Under the guidance of Director Susan Deller Ross and a Teaching Fellow, Clinic students will spend a semester developing human rights advocacy skills while working on an international women's human rights project with partner NGOs or advocates.  The clinic partner is most often based in sub-Saharan Africa, but some clinic partners are located in other parts of the world (e.g., the Philippines; Poland; the Middle East).  Students work closely with local lawyers to develop policy, strategy, and proposed legislation, court papers, or human rights reports to address an important gap in women’s rights.  In the Fall semester, students work on constitutional or impact litigation in a national court or submissions to international human rights monitoring bodies, such as the UN Human Rights Committee or the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.  In the Spring semester, students focus on fact finding trips, human rights reports, and draft legislation.  The clinic also works with regional and international bodies on country- or theme-specific submissions.

Past semester projects have addressed these human rights violations in working on such issues as domestic violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation/cutting, so-called “honor” crimes (murders of women by family members), trafficking, polygamy, domestic servitude, bride price, child marriage, and guardianship laws that subject wives to the authority of their husbands.

They have proposed legislative solutions and initiated impact litigation to challenge existing laws that deprive women of access and control over land and property, laws that increase vulnerability of girls and women to HIV, and laws that undermine the rights of those living with HIV/AIDS.  They have addressed laws that give husbands the lion’s share of marital property and of property inherited through intestate succession or that deprive women of their share of the matrimonial property upon divorce. They have tackled discriminatory labor laws that prevent women from working at night or in mines, require them to retire earlier than men, and prohibit work without a husband’s consent.

The Clinic does not have a prescribed set of topic areas on which students and fellows work. Rather, local lawyers and clinic faculty collaboratively choose projects that are responsive to partner NGOs’ priorities and offer Clinic students and fellows the best opportunity to be directly involved in the research, development, and advocacy of women's human rights.  Although projects and host countries vary from semester to semester, all emphasize the application of international, regional and national women’s human rights standards in the domestic context and all require extensive comparative analysis with such standards in other countries. The Clinic provides students with intensive training in writing and oral presentation skills.

Contingent upon funding, Clinic students and faculty conduct fact finding trips each spring semester, working closely with our local partners to develop human rights reports and proposed legislation.

A Sampling of Our Projects

Students and faculty working with partners have produced:

  • Legal briefs mounting constitutional challenges to sex discriminatory laws;
  • Human rights reports documenting abuses against women’s human rights;
  • Proposed legislation to bring discriminatory laws into conformity with regional and international human rights law; and
  • Submissions to international UN human rights monitoring bodies highlighting the state’s violation of its treaty obligations to protect and promote women’s human rights.

Since its establishment in 1998, the clinic has worked with legal partners on the a range of issues affecting women’s human rights in a myriad of countries, including:

Spring 2009

  • HIV & Women’s Human Rights:  Obstacles to Prevention, Treatment, & Care at Home & Abroad  During the Spring 2009 semester, the Clinic conducted two parallel fact-findings in Washington, D.C., and in Guyana, South America & Caribbean, to investigate how violations of women’s human rights engender the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and vice versa.  Washington, D.C. has the highest HIV rate in the nation, with increasingly higher numbers of women affected.  In Guyana, one of the original 15 Special Focus Countries under the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), HIV/AIDS is the number one killer of Guyanese ages 25 to 44, with women constituting the majority of HIV-positive people under 24. Despite radically different resource levels, both locations exhibit similar HIV rates and gendered dynamics fueling an epidemic in need of a human rights approach.  Two separate human rights reports and proposed legislative and policy amendments were produced for advocacy by partners.

To read the executive summary and full report, click here.
                                                                                               
Fall 2008

  • Constitutional challenges in Kenyan courts to i) the practice of evicting HIV-positive widows from their marital homes; ii) women’s right to the valuation of non-monetary contributions to the family and to an equal share of marital property upon divorce; and iii) the sex-discriminatory impact of criminal penalties for the transmission of HIV in Kenya. 
  • Legal and policy brief to address human rights violations of coercive prenatal HIV testing of women in the United States (case study: Arkansas Law).

Spring 2008

  • Human rights report in support of proposed legislation on women’s rights to inheritance, land, and property (including matrimonial property and equitable division of property at divorce) in Kenya.

Fall 2007

  • Constitutional challenges to sex and race discriminatory laws in Namibia on: i) unequal grounds for divorce under customary law; ii) inheritance and succession; and iii) default marital property regimes which deprive women of property during marriage and at divorce (for the Legal Assistance Center (LAC)).
    • Clinic students provided legal research to support Kaalina, an HIV positive mother of five, who along with her children was evicted from her home after her husband sold it without her knowledge. To read more about Kaalina, click here.
  • Challenge to polygyny in South Africa (litigation).

Spring 2007

  • Human rights report and legislative reforms to laws limiting girls and women from inheriting, or to access, control, be allocated, or own land, including communal land and other property – Swaziland.

Fall 2006

  • Lawsuits in Swaziland developed with WLSA (Women and the Law in Southern Africa, Research Trust) to challenge i) marital rape exception; and ii) sex discriminatory marriage laws (dual marriage under civil and customary law).
  • Lawsuits in Ghana developed with LAWA-Ghana on i) marital rape exemption; and ii) the practice of polygyny.

Spring 2006

  • Human rights report and legislative reforms to sex discriminatory marriage and divorce laws in Swaziland.

Fall 2005

  • Lawsuits in Nigeria to challenge sex discriminatory laws on (i) inheritance; (ii) forced and early marriages; and (iii) custody for and by people living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Property, Custody, and Rights in Marriage: lawsuit to challenge sex discriminatory laws relating to consent of married parties in property, custody, and marital proceedings  – Philippines.

Spring 2005

  • Human rights reports and proposed legislative reforms on (i) Polygamy and bride price; and (ii) minimum age of marriage and a husband’s guardianship of his wife – Tanzania.


Fall 2004

  • Lawsuit to challenge sex discriminatory inheritance laws in Uganda and Tanzania (litigation).  
  • Challenge to Adultery Provisions of Penal Code that provide for female only adultery crimes (litigation) - Uganda.
  • Polygamy challenge (litigation) – Uganda.

Spring 2004

    • Human rights reports written in collaboration with LAW-Uganda recommending legislative reforms on the issues
       of (i) Sex discriminatory inheritance laws; and (ii) Female genital cutting/mutilation  – Uganda.

Fall 2003

  • Employment Discrimination: draft bill to end sex discrimination in employment - Uganda.
  • Muslim Marriages: draft marriage contract, amendment to Domestic Relations Bill to end sex discrimination in Muslim marriage law - Uganda.

Spring 2003

  • Domestic Violence: proposed mediation screening rules, proposed police procedures (draft legislation) – Ghana.
  • Queen Mothers (women traditional leaders): proposed legislation to integrate Queen Mothers into National and Regional House of Chiefs (legislation) – Ghana.
  • Domestic Workers: draft contract, labor bill and amendments to existing laws to protect domestic workers (legislation) – Ghana.

Fall 2002

  • Stoning for Adultery (appellate litigation) – Nigeria.
    • Draft Supreme Court brief for the Amina Lawal adultery stoning case.
  • Minimum Age of Marriage: draft laws on child marriage and divorce for abused women – Nigeria.
  • Proposed state code giving Muslim women equal marriage rights (draft legislation) – Nigeria.

Spring 2002

  • Human rights reports recommending legislative reforms on the (i) Sex discriminatory inheritance laws; and (ii) Domestic violence - Tanzania.

Fall 2001

  • Constitutional Court lawsuit seeking equal rights for women to divorce an adulterous spouse (litigation) - Uganda.
  • Proposed draft law to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS by banning marital rape and polygamy - Uganda.
  • Draft Legislation to combat human trafficking – Ghana.
  • Proposed legislative reform to increase women’s political participation - Ghana.

Spring 2001

  • Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment and Employment Discrimination as Violations of Women’s Human Rights (report) – Poland.

Fall 2000

  • Requirement of Husband’s Consent for Wife’s Sterilization (litigation) – Uganda.
  • Musoke, Mukasa, & Law and Advocacy for Women in Uganda v. Attorney General of Uganda & Minister of Health.
  • Regulating and eradication Female Genital Cutting / Mutilation (draft legislation and a petition to Ugandan Human Rights Commission) – Uganda.
    • Policy Recommendations Addressing the Marital Rape Exemption in Ghanaian Law.
  • Report and Proposed Legislation on Polygamy (legislation) – Ghana.

Spring 2000

  • Domestic Relations Bill regulating polygamy, bride price, rights of cohabitating couples, and marital rape (legislation) – Uganda.
  • Lifting the ban on women’s ability to work during night-time (litigation) – Ghana.
  • Leadership and Advocacy for Women in Africa v. Attorney General of Ghana.
  • Sex Discrimination in employment, including at hiring, promotion and sexual harassment at the work place (draft legislation) – Ghana.

Fall 1999

  • Report for the Rapporteur on Violence against Women on so-called “Honor Crimes,” including information on Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Israel, and Syria.
  • Equal Property Rights During Marriage and at Divorce (draft legislation) – Ghana.
    • Recommendations for Legislative Reform: Equal Marital Property Distribution at Divorce.

Spring 1999

  • Draft Legislation on Domestic Violence in Ghana and Uganda.
  • Intestate Succession extended to Women (litigation) – Uganda.
    • Law and Advocacy for Women in Uganda v. Attorney General of Uganda.
  • Spousal Consent for Employment (litigation) – Ghana.
  • Law and Advocacy for Women in Ghana v. Attorney General of Ghana.