MHR Student Uses Summer to Promote Women's Rights
Vanesa Mercado Diaz (MHR '21) is a second year Master of Human Rights student with a concentration in women’s rights, migration and Latin America. This past summer, Vanesa worked within the Women’s Rights division at The Advocates for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization that works to change systems and conditions that cause human rights abuses around the world. We recently caught-up with Vanesa about her summer experience in the short interview below.
Human Rights Program (HRP): Please describe your summer internship or project and the work that you did during this time.
Vanesa Mercado Diaz (VMD): This summer I interned with The Advocates for Human Rights, within the Women’s Rights division. The focus of my projects this summer consisted of research and strategies to promote ratification of the Istanbul Convention, oversight on country reports/updates on general recommendation 35, the Stop Violence Against Women Project (STOPVAW) and the WATCH Court Observation project. I am continuing with this internship through the fall!
HRP: What made you choose this internship specifically? How does the work you were doing this summer relate to your area of study at UMN?
VMD: I was drawn to the Advocates because they focus on human rights being enforced locally and internationally. Human rights organizations often seem so abstract in how their work actually impacts communities and I feel that the advocates do an exceptional job at honing in international norms to be promoted in our everyday lives.
HRP: What kinds of projects have you been working on this summer? Does one in particular stand out as being of great value and/ or interest?
VMD: Of the several projects I was involved in the Istanbul Convention Research and the WATCH Court Observation project were the two most impactful for me. The Istanbul Convention is an international treaty body to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. Not only does this treaty make violence against women a public matter but creates an obligation for the state to promote norms of equality and to integrate protections and resources. The work we completed with this project was to track and monitor opposition patterns in different countries as well as create innovative solutions to help partner organizations push positive messaging about the need for ratification of the Istanbul Convention in their countries.
The WATCH Court Observation project is the monitoring of cases of sexual assault, domestic violence and traficking in Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington counties. My role within this was to sit-in at court rooms several times a week to monitor and document ways in which the legislative system handles these types of cases and the ways they continually fail women and girls.This type of oversight and documentation of legal procedures creates accountability and research for legislative recommendations of how institutions can best serve survivors.
HRP: What are some of your key takeaways from this experience?
VMD: From this experience, I have gained valuable insight on how different mechanisms and institutions are used to enforce and uphold human rights. Human rights work is complex and draws from multiple areas of expertise. I was able to see how research is used to understand different situations across the world in order to implement the most adequate forms of advocacy; what works for some communities may not work for others. Further, the very practical ways legal and institutional mechanisms are used to uphold rights of communities reminded me of tangible ways we can actually make change.
HRP: What skills or personal growth have you gained through doing this work?
VMD: This experience working with a human rights organization taught me all of the ins-and outs of what goes into advancing human rights that I couldn't have learned in the classroom. Witnessing first-hand how laws and protections function as well as a broad understanding of violence against women internationally have centered how I see myself continuing this type of work in the long run.
HRP: How will this experience help or inform your career path or professional interests?
VMD: The Advocates is my first step in the door of working in an organization that is specifically focused on human rights. Being able to work in a human rights organization has allowed me to gain knowledge about how human rights are enforced in a larger context both locally and internationally.