This semester I enrolled in a new course offered by SIPA’s Gender a Public Policy Specialization called Gender and Armed Conflict: Contemporary Theory and Practice for Advocates. The course is taught by Lisa Davis who is a Clinical Professor of Law for the Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic at CUNY School of Law. She has worked extensively in the field of human rights, gender and LGBTQ rights, particularly in conflict and disaster settings.

As part of the course, each student is writing a report on a particular human rights issue for women and LGBTQ persons in the context of the ISIS conflict. Our findings will be compiled into three jointly published reports that will be submitted to the international community, specifically The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, The U.N. Security Council, and the International Criminal Court.

Our research for these reports also involves interviews with relevant international conflict experts and local advocates working in Iraq and Syria. Professor Davis has been working with international human rights organizations such as MADRE, as well as local organizations in Iraq and Syria to address these issues, and she has several contacts that we can use for these interviews. These interviews will help to inform our analysis so we write a report that accurately reflects the realities on the ground.

A couple of weeks ago, two Iraqi advocates came to class to discuss their work and the difficulties they face protecting women and LGBTQ persons in Iraq. We had the opportunity to ask them questions that were relevant to our respective reports, and to discuss what they believed would be most important to include in the report. It was incredible to be able to hear from people that are on the ground providing services for women and LGBTQ persons, and to hear their inspirational stories. We will also have visits from advocates from Syria to discuss their experiences in relation to the ISIS conflict.

Professor Davis’s experience as a practitioner has enriched our class and helps to bring our studies out of the theoretical realm and into the real world. Once we are finished with this course, we will be able to say we gained the skills necessary to conduct interviews, and to write a report that will be submitted to an international body. Professor Davis also stresses the importance of remembering that these reports will have a real impact on the advocates in Iraq and Syria that are working every day to protect women and LGBTQ persons.

Classes like this are what make the SIPA experience so special. Being able to submit a report to a high level international body on an issue I am particularly passionate about is not your everyday experience in graduate school, and I am honored that I have the opportunity to participate in this process. The Gender and Armed Conflict course at SIPA is just one of many courses that provide this type of real-world experience, allowing students a peek at what their professional careers might involve.

If you’re interested in previewing this class or another, sign up for a class visit here.

[Photo courtesy of Lisa Davis]