Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Rights

The International Human Rights Clinic has long focused on advancing the rights of women, gender-diverse persons, and LGBTI individuals, working in close partnerships with local non-governmental groups and grassroots activists across the globe. The Clinic engages in strategic legal advocacy on a wide range issues at the heart of the global struggle for gender equality, including family law reform, child marriage, gender-based violence, decriminalization of gender and sexuality expression, conflict-related sexual violence, gender discrimination in labor and nationality laws, and capacity building for women’s rights activists. Under the expert supervision of our clinicians, our clinical student teams employ a variety of advocacy methods, including legal and policy advocacy before international and regional mechanisms and institutions, documentation and reporting, public and media advocacy, legislative drafting and reform, and strategic litigation support.

The Human Rights Program seeks to support cutting-edge scholarship and advocacy on women’s rights and gender justice by hosting visiting fellows and funding postgraduate and summer fellows who specialize in topics related to gender and sexuality. In the 2019-2020 academic year, Visiting Fellow Adejoké Babington-Ashaye researched the investigation and prosecution of conflict-related sexual violence as acts of terrorism. Over the years, postgraduate fellows have also worked with survivors of sexual violence from Syria, Myanmar, the DRC, and more. The Human Rights Program also maintains a long-standing collaboration with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, who in 2019 was appointed HRP’s Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher.

The Program also works to build awareness and foster dialogue about women’s equality, gender justice, and sexuality through workshops and events on campus that engage students, visiting scholars, and practitioners from around the world. Recent topics of discussion include gender-based violence and HIV in Southern Africa, Islamic feminism and family law reform advocacy in the Muslim world, challenges of feminism and women’s rights advocacy in Saudi Arabia, anti-gay propaganda law in Russia, and LGBTI rights advocacy in Lebanon and Tunisia.

LGBTI Issues

  • In February 2020, the Human Rights Program hosted an expert meeting on so-called practices of “conversion therapy” with Victor Madrigal-Borloz, HRP’s Eleanor Roosevelt Senior Visiting Researcher and UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, to contribute to his forthcoming report to the UN Human Rights Council.

  • The Clinic has partnered with the Lebanon-based LGBT rights group Helem and the NGO Legal Agenda to support their advocacy toward the decriminalization of same-sex relations in Lebanon. In Spring 2019, a student team supported Helem and Legal Agenda’s efforts to develop more robust and advanced litigation tools to defend persons targeted because of their sexual orientation. The students helped develop an upgraded model legal defense for attorneys engaged in strategic litigation to defend individuals prosecuted under Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which prohibits sexual relations that “contradict the laws of nature.”

  • Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law Yee Htun has led a multi-year collaborative project with Colors Rainbow, a prominent LGBT organization in Myanmar. In 2019, a clinical team briefed members of Myanmar’s legislature, the Assembly of the Union, and its legal reform committee, on the British colonial roots of a Myanmar law criminalizing homosexual conduct.

  • Former Academic Program Associate Director Emily Nagisa Keehn published a comprehensive report studying criminal laws that are used to regulate and punish diverse expressions of gender identity, sexuality, bodily autonomy, and morality; these include laws such as those that criminalize sex work, same-sex relations, abortion, and drug use. The project sought to understand how these laws produce human rights abuses against the marginalized groups they target, and how human rights systems interpret norms to justify, or reject, their decriminalization.

Women’s Rights

  • During the 2019-2020 academic year, International Human Rights Clinic Co-Director Susan Farbstein led a project in the Clinic to examine barriers to women’s leadership in the human rights field.

  • Building off a multi-year collaboration led by Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law Salma Waheedi, the International Human Rights Clinic and Musawah developed a comprehensive Muslim family law mapping project that analyzed the family laws of 31 Muslim majority and minority countries and identified discriminatory provisions along 12 principal issues of concern, along with recommendations for reform.

  • The International Human Rights Clinic has actively supported advocacy and engagement with UN mechanisms, including the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Under the direction of Clinical Instructor and Lecturer on Law Salma Waheedi, clinical teams worked with Musawah and local grassroots advocates to draft and submit law reform-oriented advocacy reports to CEDAW and to develop post-CEDAW engagement advocacy plans. Recent submissions covered Nigeria, Kuwait, Oman, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (Pre-session), and Mauritius, among others, and focused primarily on family law, criminal law, and nationality law reforms to remedy gender-based discrimination and gaps in legal protections for women.

  • Since 2018, Assistant Director Anna Crowe has been working on a multi-year project on gender-based violence and the arms trade.

Sexual Violence

  • In March 2019, the International Human Rights Clinic worked with Mujeres Creando to publish “No Justice For Me: Femicide and Impunity in Bolivia,” a report documenting the high rates of femicide and violence against women in Bolivia, as well as governmental efforts to hold perpetrators accountable. The report received extensive media attention. Using the findings of the report, the feminist collective Mujeres en Busca de Justicia instigated significant national policy changes, persuading the government to declare femicide a national emergency and announce a ten-point plan that incorporates prevention, accountability, additional funding to tackle these issues, and obligatory training on gender violence for civil servants.

  • For over five years, Yee Htun has been actively collaborating with a coalition of women’s rights organizations in their review of a draft Prevention of Violence Against Women Law in Myanmar. Htun and her clinical teams have produced recommendations to strengthen the law, worked with NGOs on advocacy plans, and presented findings at the Myanmar Senate.

  • Anna Crowe has collaborated with the All Survivors Project, an NGO committed to advocating for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, on a project on conflict-related sexual violence in places of detention. In October 2020, they released new principles Principles on the Prevention of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) in Detention Settings.