Sara Allaith on Gender and Human Rights
‘During the current COVID-19 crisis we are reconsidering our priorities and learning how our lives are inevitably interconnected. The crisis is forcing us to see the maldistribution of space, wealth and power in society and interrogate the values and norms governing our actions and institutions, with the hope to reimagining a new “normal” that places the collective good at the centre. Our incredible students are the necessary actors of this change’
Dr Serena Natile, Lecturer in Socio-Legal Studies, Brunel Law School
In the article below Brunel Law School alumna, Sara Allaith reflects on the insights gained from the LLM module Gender & Human Rights and how she is applying and further developing this knowledge in her current work for the organisation Shamsaha (formerly known as Women's Crisis Care International) which supports women in crisis in Bahrain. Gender & Human Rights (LX5659) is a postgraduate module convened by Dr Natile that combines the analysis of gender-related legal documents and frameworks with feminist scholarship, critical reflections, and practical engagement with legal reform (the course has an assessment component on ‘rethinking and redrafting the law’).
Sara Allaith graduated from Brunel Law School in December 2019 with a Master of Laws (LLM) and was awarded the CBASS Dean’s Prize for Innovation and Impact in MA Dissertations for her thesis ‘De-legitimising the sexual violation of marital rape: a capabilities approach to the human rights of women’, supervised by Dr Serena Natile. In the nomination for this prize, Dr Natile describes Sara’s dissertation as ‘an excellent piece of work, extensively researched, clearly structured and insightfully analysed. What is exceptional about this dissertation is the development of a conceptual framework that draws upon the so-called “capabilities approach” to analyse the limits as well as the potential of legal reforms aimed at addressing sexual violence in the Islamic context. This work is the perfect expression of de Sousa Santos’ polyphonic university that values diversity while committing to equality and social justice.’
Below Sara also provides 5 tips for students on how to write a good dissertation.
Studying and Practising Gender & Human Rights
It is not new information that gender is a deciding factor of our fate, but to what degree? Similar to most, I was initially reluctant to address the gender problem that persists worldwide. Perhaps, the hesitance to engage in detail with the issue of gender stems from the assumption that it is connected with the overused and mainstream feminist movements, which has, in itself, earned negative connotations. It is true that the discussion of gender and human rights inevitably involves feminism. However, attention must be drawn to the most intriguing aspect of the gender problem, that is, the consequential value gender identity holds over our opportunities and life choices as human beings.
The gender and human rights discourse is clearly associated to the frequent expression that human beings are social beings. Gender, as opposed to sex, refers to socially constructed norms that regulate social relations. This means that our social circumstances matter in defining our individual identities. For this reason, each one of us has a powerful role in setting the roles, behaviours, activities and attributes related to women, men and non-binary. In this way, our freedom and wellbeing depend on others. In reality, these expectations and gender roles are destructive to the plural forms of our existence and so we are held back by the social conception of gender, unable to freely and authentically be ourselves.
Studying gender and human rights itself was an eye-opener, but the extent of the learning was not limited to books. It became a form of catharsis, which instilled in my mind a constant consideration toward my own behaviour as well as other people’s actions and the implications and purposes they serve. Although, the gender and human rights course was the right starting point to explore this social disenfranchisement experienced by most people.
Shortly after graduating, I somehow found myself taking on a role that was part of an initiative concerned with gender and human rights. The local organisation reaches out to vulnerable individuals facing violence, which occurs as a result of the false impressions of what it means to be masculine and feminine, and seeks to offer support. Violence is a separate vehicle of oppression, and intersecting with the problem of gender, triggers an endless cycle of injustice.
So far, it has been fulfilling to take direct control of the social narrative that governs our social relations by raising awareness and reassuring that violence is not acceptable and should not be justified by gender roles. It has also been refreshing to encounter like-minded people who are not intimidated by the extensive impact of gender violence. Once you’re aware of the social conditioning and dynamics, being in a position to practise gender and human rights seem very practical despite targeting a deep-rooted matter. Knowing that we are part of something bigger than just ourselves ignites a passion to transform how men and women are perceived.
5 tips for writing a good dissertation
1. Make a plan, stay organised
One of the most important steps to writing is writing an outline. Making note of the different ideas and small details is also key to your writing, it will allow structuring arguments in a logical order, discovering connections between the points and building strong arguments. Also, planning a realistic and reasonable study schedule is necessary. Arrange your ideas and time well but also remember that flexibility is important if things don’t seem to align - alter your outline or your schedule.
2. Set limits
As extensive you want your research to be, make sure to control the amount of information included and its relevance to the topic. When it comes to the managing the workload, there are also limits which you are bound by. Narrowing down the ideas will improve your discussion as it creates more space to focus on engaging deeper with the concepts and submitting a meaningful perspective on the subject.
3. Be patient and calm
Taking care of your wellbeing is one of the top priorities during your dissertation. Find ways to stay calm and support yourself through the process. If you are rushing through due to pressure and stress, the quality of your work will suffer. Start early, take your time and work mindfully.
4. Read, reflect, repeat
Deciding on a dissertation question will come from topics you’ve come across in your reading and afterwards, your reflection on the matter. Reading and reflecting also applies throughout your entire dissertation process. You should spend time reading when you’re stuck or you feel there are gaps in the research. Reflect with your supervisor and receive feedback - and even, reflect with your friends or family, they might not fully understand what you’re going on and on about but, it might lead to a sudden light bulb moment for you.
5. Trust yourself and the process
Have faith in yourself! A positive mindset is in your best interest, especially when you start to have doubts about the content. It will encourage you to power through and before you know it, you’re able to tackle the challenging parts.
Written by Sara Allaith.