Happy International Women's Day from the IHRP!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Check out these profiles of Faculty of Law alumnamaking a difference in their communities whether in Canada or across the world. Special shout out to 2009 IHRP intern Aneesa Walji who is now based in Cairo (and whose profile is pasted below).

Aneesa Walji, JD 2010: This global Canadian forges pathways to democracy

Story by Karen Gross 

You might say that Aneesa Walji is a truly global citizen even though she was born and raised in Canada. With family roots in Tanzania and India, Walji completed her last two years of high school in Hong Kong. She then earned a BA in international development studies at U of T, and worked in Sri Lanka with World University Service of Canada as a junior program officer for gender and development. By the time Walji started at the Faculty of Law in 2007, her path seemed predestined.

Aneesa Walji in Petra Jordan 

Aneesa Walji in Petra, Jordan

"I went to law school in order to equip myself with the tools to work at the intersection of law and international development," she says. And that's exactly what she's doing.  Walji lends her expertise to non-governmental and inter-governmental organizations that support elections, judicial reform and constitution-making in developing countries. Within that framework, she works to promote gender equity and gender mainstreaming. She takes what she calls a holistic approach, looking beyond the obvious debates about women's rights and focusing instead on the bigger picture.

"I think one of the things often missed is that a whole constitution itself will affect women, not just certain human rights provisions within that constitution," she says. "Women are approximately half the population and there are many ways in which our society and our laws are not gender-sensitive." As an example, she cites rights to reproductive health, which would generally affect women much more than men. A non-discrimination clause can be easily missed, she says, while feminist and women's rights advocates zero in on more attention-grabbing issues.

Since earning her JD, Walji has reached for ripe opportunities. She attended New York University and obtained an LLM in international legal studies. As a fellow with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), she relocated to Cairo. During her time there, she looked at Egypt's constitution-making process. Among the questions she sought to answer: how many women were involved in the body drafting the constitution? And what did women's participation look like in the referendum?

Now based in New York City, Walji is back in Cairo as part of an international election observation mission with the NGO Democracy International. Working as a legal expert, she is on the ground with key participants in the process. Ultimately, she says her own role is not to make change happen. It is to create a path that allows others to do it successfully.

"I'm working to support democracy promotion that other actors in their countries are leading," she says.  "I would just like to see human rights protected while democracy is being achieved."