News Archive

Miller Institute Initiative Promotes Human Rights for Women and Girls

Conference attendees
Allison Davenport '04, second from left

By Andrew Cohen

The Miller Institute for Global Challenges and the Law is host to a new initiative, the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) for Human Rights.

Founded in 1996 as an independent NGO, the group sought to help integrate international human rights standards to strengthen domestic accountability for the rights of women and girls, and to support the leadership of young women of color in social justice work. At Berkeley Law, WILD will continue that agenda through education, public advocacy, and collaborative efforts to develop and implement international human rights standards in the U.S. and globally.

Soon after launching in March, WILD hosted a consultation between a diverse range of civil society representatives and government officials. The program was part of a U.S. Department of State “listening tour” in preparation for U.S. participation in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process—where member nations report on their human rights practices and the Human Rights Council reviews their record every four years.

“It was designed to allow government representatives to gather information about U.S. compliance with its international human rights obligations directly from domestic human and civil rights groups,” says Allison Davenport ’04, WILD’s director. 

Held on March 25 at the Bancroft Hotel, the event was facilitated by Lecturer in Residence Alice M. Miller, WILD’s faculty adviser. Panelists highlighted pressing issues facing marginalized populations due to their race, immigration status, sexuality, and gender, and made recommendations for providing redress and increasing protections. Government representatives receiving the testimony—who came from federal agencies such as the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Education—included Amy Cucinella ’06 (Homeland Security) and Michael Kruley ’72 (Office for Civil Rights, Health and Human Services).

The health and education panel was moderated by Wilda White, executive director of Berkeley Law's Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice. Lecturer in residence Kate Jastram ’86, a Miller Institute senior fellow, moderated the state accountability panel. 

Input from the event, and from similar consultations in other U.S. cities, will inform the December 2010 government report to the U.N. Human Rights Council. The Council will review that report and others filed by civil society groups, and respond with recommendations for greater U.S. compliance with international human rights law.

WILD also hosted a roundtable on April 12, with more than 20 local experts examining issues facing women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings. The gathering is part of a long-term project, organized with a coalition of global NGOs, to support improved application of human rights standards in those settings. The discussions focused on research memos drafted by Berkeley Law students, including those in the International Human Rights Law Clinic, that addressed how the rights of women and girls can be better protected under international human rights law. 

Going forward, WILD will continue to support public education efforts toward U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—adopted in 1979 by the U.N. General Assembly. Although the U.S. is one of only six member countries that have yet to ratify the treaty, WILD led the effort to pass a 1998 ordinance in San Francisco calling for its direct local implementation. WILD’s work, notes Miller, demonstrates “the direct and substantial effect that international standards can have locally.”

Davenport says WILD will bring together students, faculty, and local advocates in developing scholarship and skills to advance human rights at all levels, and to complement the law school's existing human rights and social justice programs. “WILD has been a trailblazer for more than a decade in using innovative strategies to promote human rights both domestically and internationally,” she says. “We’re excited to make a unique contribution to Berkeley Law.”

For more information about WILD for Human Rights, contact Davenport at