Human Rights Fellowship Stories: Minne Bosma – South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies

Over the last two months, I have been working at South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. So far the fellowship has been an interesting and valuable experience. It has allowed me to have the unique experience of living in a less developed state, but more important, to contribute to the improvement of human rights in Bangladesh.

Former Hubert Humphrey Fellow Dr. Uttam Kumar Das has brought the idea of the establishment of a Human Rights Law Clinic (HRLC) back from the University of Minnesota Law School to Bangladesh, after completion of his fellowship. SAILS currently has the only HRLC in the whole country, and consists of volunteers from all law schools in Dhaka. In this context, I have developed and taught lectures, and led learning session for the volunteers of the clinic. For example on: European Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law, LGBT rights etc. The main purpose of these sessions is to encourage the volunteers to become human rights activists themselves, and to strengthen their practical skills in this regard. The learning experience was clearly not a one-way thing, as all the questions, comments, and discussions sharpened my mind and thoughts on human rights issues as well. I have also worked on an assessment for a new governance project called “Legal Empowerment of the Poor” from BRAC, which will be implemented by SAILS in the near future. Legal empowerment is relatively new phenomenon in the development sector. In Bangladesh, BRAC has legal aids clinic that legally empowers women on their family rights. However, this program does not reach other vulnerable persons in Bangladesh. The new program will be complementary to the existing legal aid programs, and will for example also focus on poor entrepreneurs, children or poor city dwellers.

Besides my work for SAILS, I have met incredible people in Bangladesh. It’s amazing and also confronting to see the happiness of people with so less opportunities and material belongings and to reflect that on our own “rich and developed” lives. Dhaka is a bit dirty compared to our standards, but the city is so vibrant and there is a positive abundance of young people who want to work and change the world they live in. I made many Bangladeshi friends, tasted local foods, enjoyed religious and cultural festivals, have seen the beautiful countryside, and met more hospital and friendly Bangladeshis. I am certain I will miss Bangladesh when I take off in within two months.

I am very grateful for the financial support the Human Rights Fellowship provided me. The fellowship strengthened my wish to work professionally in the field of human rights or development in the near future. I have seen with my own eyes how small changes can make big impacts on the lives of underprivileged people. I hope my work here contributed to (small) changes as well and will lead to big impacts for the people involved.

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.

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Human Rights Fellowship Stories: Leah Tabbert – Gender Justice

When I started work at Gender Justice, a non-profit law firm dedicated to combating gender discrimination, I came in as the organization was riding a policy advocacy high. The Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) had just passed in the legislature, and Governor Dayton had signed it into law on Mother’s Day, May 11, 2014.

Ever since the House indicated its intent to pass an economic justice package for women in the year 2014, Gender Justice was at the forefront of a coalition of women’s organizations working to make a change that could make Minnesota a leader in economic equality. The coalition synthesized decades of research and a mountain of ideas into a package of laws that aimed to broaden economic protection, and economic opportunity, for all women. Some of the provisions of WESA include:

• Raising the minimum wage to $9.50/hour by 2016

• Requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations (such as periods of sitting,

• Requiring employers to allow nursing mothers to take breaks to express milk

• Rewarding employers who recruit, prepare, place, and retain women in non-traditional limits to heavy lifting, food and water) for pregnant employees occupations and apprenticeships, especially low income and older women

• Requiring large state contractors to attest that its male and female workers receive equal

• Protecting an employee’s right to share his or her wage information with co-workers

• Expanding protections for employees with caregiver obligations

• Permitting employees to use accrued sick leave for safety leave associated with sexual pay for equal work assault, domestic violence, or stalking

WESA was a tremendous success, passing by a generous margin after a vigorous fight in committees. But after the Mother’s Day photo op on the steps of the Capitol, there was plenty of work yet to be done. Gender Justice wanted to be a part of the implementation of WESA as well.

A law is only as successful as its implementation, so policy advocacy cannot end when the bill becomes law. Gender Justice made itself a resource for the community, and especially for employers, who were responsible for bringing the protections of WESA to their employees. And by observing the implementation process, Gender Justice learned more about the way the legislature shapes real lives, making it a better advocacy organization in the process.

As a part of my work at Gender Justice, I fielded questions from employers striving to correctly incorporate WESA into their policies and practices. Employers asked questions like, “I have only nine Minnesota employees, am I subject to any WESA provisions?” and “How does leave under the Minnesota Parental Leave Act interact with leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act?” Using the resources provided by state offices like the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, I helped usher these employers towards effective application of the new laws. I began to see WESA as a long-term cooperation of government agencies, employers, and advocacy groups, rather than a discrete event that occurred on Mother’s Day of this year. And I have Gender Justice to thank for a deeper understanding of the legislative process and what follows it.

For more about the WESA campaign, visit http://www.mnwesa.org

For more about Gender Justice, visit http://www.genderjustice.us

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.

Human Rights Fellowship Stories: Emily Harrison – American Civil Liberties Union

This summer, I am a law fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital. I have drafted legal memoranda and performed legal research on various civil liberties issues. In particular, I have examined Title VII, Freedom of Information Act requests, class action suits, habeas corpus petitions, surveillance issues, prisoners’ rights, and cases relating to excessive use of force by the police. I have assisted with case preparation through analyzing deposition transcripts, contributing to mediation efforts, and evaluating the strength of potential claims. I also have had the opportunity to go to the Supreme Court for a decision day, federal district court for status hearings, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to hear oral arguments, the Council of the District of Columbia to present and listen to testimony, and a mediation. Although I work at the ACLU’s DC affiliate office, I have had the chance to sit in on conference calls with the national ACLU organization in order to be briefed on cutting edge topics such as the Hobby Lobby decision and various surveillance concerns.

I particularly enjoyed testifying before the Council of the District of Columbia regarding Bill 20-468, the “Anti-Shackling of Incarcerated Pregnant Women Act of 2013.” For a week before the hearing, I researched both the legal and health concerns surrounding the shackling of pregnant, incarcerated women. After completing my written testimony, I prepared oral testimony to present at a hearing before the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. At the hearing, I urged the Committee to take advantage of the opportunity to become a national leader by ensuring, by law, that pregnant, incarcerated women in the District of Columbia are no longer subject to the use of shackles and other restraints, except under extraordinary circumstances. It was an exhilarating experience to present testimony before the Council of the District of Columbia.

My time at the ACLU has allowed me to gain litigation experience and observe professionals in a field of interest. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to assist attorneys with oral argument preparation, review briefs drafted by a colleague, and hear Supreme Court justices announce the end of the term decisions. This range of positive experiences has not only confirmed my interest in litigating, but has also shed light on what it takes to be a respected and successful attorney.

The views expressed in this article represent those of the author and not necessarily those of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center.  As a forum for dialogue and education, and an acknowledgment of the contentious nature of human rights issues, some views expressed on this blog may not necessarily be those of the Human Rights Center as an institution.

February 19, 2014 Human Rights Session: Refugees in Malaysia

Flyer for Ms. Sreedharan's presentation.

In 2012, according to the UNHCR, almost 920,000 people applied for asylum or refugee status. These are people who are seeking safety from persecution in their home countries. They are often fleeing from threats of violence, rape, or torture. They may have used their entire life savings to escape their home country. They may be in severe need of medical attention and mental health resources. Yet despite making it to the relative safety of another country, their struggle may be far from over.

On Wednesday, February 19, Humphrey Fellow Liva Sreedharan will discuss how approximately 100,000 refugees in her home country of Malaysia go out of the frying pan and into the fire, escaping persecution in their home countries only to arrive in Malaysia, where they are perceived as illegal immigrants. Ms. Sreedharan will talk about the particular vulnerability of women refugees to abuse and exploitation, and how this ill-treatment is an assault not only on their human rights, but their identities as well.

Come Join Us: Giving Back to the Community

2012 Human Rights Fellows.

2012 Human Rights Fellows.

We are so proud of the work that Human Rights Fellows do in our local communities! 2012 Fellowship Alum Allison Boyle is utilizing her multiple talents in law and music to raise funds for her placement organization, Casa de Proyecto Libertad. At Proyecto, Allison worked primarily with immigrant victims of domestic violence. Now back in Minnesota, she works to raise awareness about the struggles faced by immigrant victims of abuse.

Allison will be holding a fundraiser at Bordertown Coffee in Minneapolis on March 27th from 6-8pm. A percentage of the profits from drink sales will go to support Proyecto. Jewelry created by Proyecto clients will also be on sale.

Allison will present stories from her work at Proyecto. The Enchantments, an all female a cappella group of which Allison is a part will perform throughout the night. We hope you will join us!

Bordertown Coffee is located at 15 16th Ave SE, Minneapolis.

Women Who Have Inspired the World

Arvonne Fraser and Marsha FreemanArvonne Fraser, Kristi Rudelius-Palmer and Marsha Freeman are two inspiring leaders, who have engaged women and men all around the world to promote and protect women’s human rights. I feel so lucky to have benefited from their efforts and mentorship.

I would love to hear from you TODAY — International Women’s Day — about women, who have inspired you to make a difference!

Thanks for all that you do to support Women’s Human Rights! Feel free to share what you are doing TODAY to celebrate and honor the human rights of girls and women around the world!

Best wishes,

Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, University of Minnesota Human Rights Center Co-Director