How Gender Discrimination and School Violence Impede the Realization of the Right to Education in South Africa

Date:  Sunday, September 25, 2005
Speaker:  Professor Erika George, University of Utah, S. J. Quinney College of Law

Professor George was formerly a fellow with Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental rights monitoring organization, where she wrote a book-length report presented to the South African Government on how gender discrimination and violence in school impedes the right to education in violation of international law. She has also worked on human rights issues and HIV/AIDS in India. Professor George teaches internal human rights, civil procedure, and constitutional law. She is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the University of Chicago.

“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy, and sustainable development.” –Kofi Annan-UN Secretary General.

Although education is enshrined as a fundamental right in the international treaty, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 130 million children have no access to basic education. Two thirds of these children are girls. The international community has pledged to achieve gender equality in education by 2015. However, development initiatives to close the gender gap have focused on access to education, not the conditions in which education occurs. My study of schoolgirls in South Africa found that girls of every socioeconomic group and race encounter high levels of sexual violence and harassment in schools. Left unchecked, such gender discrimination serves to create a covert curriculum legitimizing violence and reinforcing inequality. The presentation will explore a conceptual framework with the potential to bridge the existing divide between international development goals and human rights law.

Suggested References and Resources:
Scared at School available at
Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (1999)
United Nations Children’s Fund, State of the World’s Children Annual Reports
Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (2000)
Pam Christie, The Right to Learn: The Struggle for Education in South Africa (1985)
World Declaration on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs, available at
Millennium Development Goals, available at


Environmentalists Under Fire: International Strategies for Defending the Earth’s Defenders

Date:  Sunday, September 11, 2005
Speaker:  Lewis Gordon, Project Director, Environmental Defender Law Center

Lewis Gordon, founder of the Environmental Defender Law Center, is a Harvard graduate with experience as a lawyer in the private and public sectors. He has represented groups such as the Sierra Club in environmental litigation, served on the plaintiffs’ committee in the Exxon Valdez oil spill litigation, chaired the Boards of Directors of environmental organizations, worked extensively with Amnesty International, and written briefs involving indigenous peoples and environmental defenders before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Mr. Gordon has successfully defended a number of environmental defenders in the U.S. courts. He has also been a Stegner Fellow and adjunct professor of law (Environment, Human Rights) at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Environmental defenders around the globe are often subject to direct abuses of their own human rights. They are threatened with violence, arrested and falsely charged by repressive governments, and increasingly, find themselves to be defendants in defamation suits brought by multinational corporations attempting to silence criticism of unpopular development projects. Environmental defenders are often from politically powerless and marginalized groups, and are frequently indigenous people or members of ethnic minorities.

Legal assistance for these environmental defenders was largely lacking until the creation of the Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC) in 2003. EDLC identifies environmental defenders from developing countries who have suffered abuses of their human rights and then enlists American lawyers from premier firms to work pro bono on their behalf.

Suggested References and Resources:  

  1. Joint report issued by Amnesty International USA and the Sierra Club in 2000: “Environmentalists Under Fire: 10 Urgent Cases of Human Rights Abuses,” found at

2. Information about one of EDLC’s cases: