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Emily Barth '11 Sees Law School As Tool for Social Change

Although Emily Barth ‘11 grew up in Ohio and Northern Kentucky, she has spent significant portions of her life overseas, primarily in Asia. After attending elementary and high school in Northern Kentucky, she matriculated to Dennison University (Columbus, OH) for undergraduate studies. There she double-majored in cinema and East Asian studies. Though she has a passion for film production, she realized that the cinema was “a hobby, not a career.” Always drawn to Asian culture, her focus led to a major in East Asian studies. This also opened the door for her to study abroad in Nanjing, China during college.

After graduating from Dennison in 2003, Barth joined the Peace Corps. She was stationed in Bangladesh, where she taught at an all-girls school. In addition to her role as a teacher, Barth and her colleagues played other important roles in the students’ development. “We were working with girls in a conservative Muslim culture,” she explained, “and they all had many responsibilities at home. We were able to give them a break from those responsibilities.” Because of a progressive headmistress, Barth and the other teachers were able to introduce the girls to sports, which they had never had the opportunity to play before. She even helped teach the girls—and some of the other female teachers—to ride a bicycle, which many had never done before! Barth also taught art at the school, and the girls were able to complete art projects and murals. Finally, Barth was also involved with educating workers in the country about HIV/AIDS. She had a very full load.

The Peace Corps Leads to UC Law

Following her Peace Corps experience, Barth moved back to Cincinnati and began working for the Ohio Justice and Policy Center (OJPC) on a prisoner health care project. Barth describes her experience at OJPC as her way of “testing the waters for law school.” She remarks that the lawyers she worked with were incredible mentors for her; they were “what lawyers should be.” Through this experience, Barth said, she learned that “it is possible to use law as a tool for social change, and by using both ingenuity and persistence you can bring about major change.”

She chose UC Law, she said, because of the fellowship offered to her by the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. Very interested in human rights, the fellowship was a great opportunity for her. Additionally, she knew she would be able to work abroad over the summer through the Institute. And their renowned programming, including the numerous speakers and networking opportunities, were also part of its appeal.

Opportunity to Focus on Women’s Rights.

Through the Urban Morgan Institute, Barth did get the chance to work abroad over her first summer. She worked in the state of Uttarpardesh, India, which is one of the biggest—and most impoverished—states in the country. Barth worked with a feminist non-governmental organization (NGO) known as the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI). The organization focuses on three main areas, she explained: the casework unit, which works directly with clients; the resource center, which provides training for others in the field, especially for similar organizations in India; and, the right to choice unit. She did most of her work this summer in the latter group, explaining that “right to choice” focuses on sexual autonomy rather than just reproductive freedom. This part of the organization focuses on the rights of women forced into arranged marriages and other circumstances in which women are unable to have control over their own situations. Also among the issues the group deals with are community violence against women, dowry deaths, and honor crimes. “Honor crimes,” she explained, “are situations in which the family kills the daughter for fear that she is going to embarrass the family, such as in a situation where the woman intends to marry a man from a lower caste than her own.” Barth remarked that Uttarpardesh seems to be “moving backwards” in this particular respect, because there has been a resurgence of honor crimes in the region. The actual incidence of such crimes is underreported, as well, which means they are probably happening much more frequently than anyone is willing to acknowledge.

In addition to assisting with these projects, Barth’s other significant project was creating an “advancement of women framework.” “There are many organizations that focus on an issue or two at a local level,” she explained, “so AALI wanted to find a way for all of these organizations to be more effective and work together for bigger change on a national scale.” With that goal in mind, her job was to identify relevant and pressing issues related to violence against women and delegate those issues to partner organizations to ensure that all issues are being addressed throughout the country. To create a first draft of the framework, Barth researched many kinds of background information, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW). It is projects like this, Barth remarked, that result in AALI being seen as taboo in the country, because the organization appears to be opposing the country’s traditions.

Barth explained that she had actively sought out this particular internship in Asia. Not only does she hold a strong, personal interest in the continent because of her former studies, but she also saw an opportunity to affect meaningful social change. “I really felt like there was a limit to what I could do in the Peace Corps,” she commented. “So it was nice to be able to work this summer with a similar population and have both the resources and the organizational backing to really make a difference in the lives of the people AALI helps.”

Author: Lindsay Mather, '11