UC Law alum Erica Hall '05 is a Woman on a Mission
UC Law alum Erica Hall shares her work on behalf of children victimized by war.
During the week before spring semester, UC Law graduate Erica Hall (2005) returned to her alma mater to teach a short course on a weighty topic: children and war. In the span of five afternoons, Hall and a class of nine students explored some of the ways children are affected by war and the violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law implicated.
The course comes straight out of Hall’s work at London-based World Vision UK, where she leads policy and government advocacy on gender and children and armed conflict issues. She describes World Vision as “a development and humanitarian organization working to improve the lives of children around the world.” Prior to her current job, she worked on International Policy and Programmes at the Children’s Legal Centre and as a consultant for UNICEF.
“My job, basically, is to convince the UK government to do more and to do specific things to improve the lives of children overseas,” she said. Hall enjoys her professional autonomy. “I pretty much get to do what I want, which is great,” she said. “I've been successful enough in my current job that ... If I say, ‘Look, I think this is an issue we really need to be focusing on and we need to be pushing the government on,’ they let me do it.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in French, she started working in corporate marketing communications. After a decade in the field, Hall decided it was time to shift gears. “I kept changing jobs and thinking, ‘I hate this company,’ and then realized, ‘Actually, I think I just hate the job. It's just not for me,’” she said.
Instead, she wanted to delve into the world of international human rights law—which led her to UC. While researching law schools, “I had the most impressive spreadsheet you have ever seen,” she said with a laugh. “I tell you, it was a masterpiece. It took me months to put together. UC was very high on the list,” she recalled, based on the Urban Morgan Institute of Human Rights and its international summer externship opportunities.
“I came on day one—you can imagine, based on my spreadsheet—saying: ‘I want to go to Bosnia next summer. Here is a list of 10 organizations in descending order that I would like to work for.’” She got that internship, with a helpful reference from the Institute’s director, Bert Lockwood. In her second summer of law school, Hall interned at UNICEF. “I was working on some issues that were really important to me, particularly around holding peacekeepers accountable for sexual exploitation and abuse, or ideally preventing that,” she said.
During her time at UC, Hall decided to specialize in gender-based violence. “I had never taken a gender course. I never considered myself even a feminist,” she said. “I know that's a strange thing, but I had this image of ‘feminist,’ and I thought, ‘that's not me.’ Then I took “Feminist Jurisprudence” (taught by UC Law Professor Kristin Kalsem) and it completely changed my world view.”
Persistence pays off
The same dogged determination that drove Hall to become a lawyer and begin a new career in human rights continues to propel her forward at World Vision.
These days, government officials come to her for help with issues of children and conflict. But in the early days, she recalled, “it was literally me cornering someone at a reception, and saying, ‘You need you talk to us about this.’ And that person saying, ‘Oh my gosh… Team, meet with her, just so that she'll leave us alone.’"
In terms of legal influence, Hall explained how human rights law can be a “very analytical process of looking at what (certain countries are) already doing, sometimes looking for new laws.” For instance, she’s working toward new legislation in the UK that’s similar to existing US law, prohibiting military funding to governments who use child soldiers.
“I get to go and do research and meet the children that we're talking about, and do an assessment of where are the barriers—and they might be legal barriers,” she said.
Children in war zones
In December 2015, Hall co-authored the report No Shame in Justice, addressing stigma against survivors to end sexual violence in conflict zones. She based the report on field research she conducted in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, highlighting a survivor-centered approach to ending impunity and responding to sexual violence.
For her research, Hall met with children, usually ranging in age from 10 to 19, in their homes, schools, or sometimes even their town squares. “In a lot of the villages, there's a square where people meet. So we’d meet there ... sitting on the ground, under a tree,” she recalled.
So how do you get young survivors of violent conflict to talk about such traumatic experiences? “We do things like drawing your life story. ‘Here's what it was like in the bush, what it was like to escape, what it's like now...’ Then we talk about the drawings, or do some other kind of activities, that can get at some of the challenges they're facing, and what they see as the potential solutions to those challenges.”
The long haul
From research to advocacy, Hall points to real-world results as her measure of success. In the case of the stigma against survivors of sexual violence in Africa, “We got three-quarters of a million pounds over two years, to work on the issue in three countries,” she said. “Now I'm leading a working group to create principles for action that governments and UN agencies all over the world will then be using in terms of, how do we change this.”
And despite the magnitude of the problems she tackles, Hall remains optimistic rather than overwhelmed.
“For me, being able to go to the field makes a huge difference because I can see the difference that things are making. So you might think, this is a hopeless cause... but when you start seeing in some places that you are able to make a difference... when you see smiling children, who are so excited they're finally able to go back to school, it's worth it. It might take a long time, but it's worth it.”