On August 14, two local high school students visited Cornell Law School to discover what it would be like to be human rights lawyers with the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice. As first prize winners of the inaugural Gender Equality Competition, Abigail Salico, a tenth-grade student from Union Springs High School, and Olivia Colón, a recent graduate of Trumansburg High School, spent the day learning about international human rights and the ways that lawyers utilize international law to protect and vindicate women's rights.
Megan McLemore, senior researcher in the Health and Human Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, talked with the winners over lunch about her experiences defending marginalized communities, such as transgender sex workers, while working with an internationally renowned human rights organization.
During a ceremony, Eduardo M. Peñalver, the Allan R. Tessler Dean of Cornell Law School, presented Abigail and Olivia with their first-place certificates and other prizes.
In the afternoon, the winners put their newly learned skills into practice when they participated in a simulation of the choices that a human rights lawyer must make when responding to human rights violations. They were tasked with exploring a hypothetical human rights crisis and asked to recommend legal and non-legal ways to address the human rights violations in preparation for a strategy session with the Avon Global Center team.
Olivia Colón, who will be attending Swarthmore College in the fall, most enjoyed learning of "not only the many injustices people around the world face regarding their human rights, but all of the ways in which human rights lawyers go about protecting those rights."
"The most important thing I learned was that it is possible for me, if I so choose, to make a career out of what was once only a passion of mine; and that would be fighting for global equality."
Women and Justice Fellow Sharon Pia Hickey said, "the Gender Equality Competition is an exciting new way to engage young people on the topic of gender equality in the United States and worldwide."
"The students gained experience in the strategies and considerations of human rights lawyers and insight into how the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice works with judges, legal professionals, and others to improve access to justice in an effort to eliminate violence against women and girls."
To read more about the winning entries and the Gender Equality Competition 2015, visit the website here.