With fresh perspectives and experiences added to their legal toolbelts, two international Indiana University McKinney School of Law students are preparing to tackle human rights issues in their communities head on.
Master of Law students Maitha Altamimi, from the United Arab Emirates, and Adeola Abatan, from Nigeria, shared their thoughts and perspectives during a recent International Student Series on the misconceptions, challenges and setbacks women face in their home countries. Both chose to pursue an education in international human rights law after their hearts were gripped by the need to further the cause of women and children back home.
Altamimi, a Fulbright fellow, received her law degree from UAE University in 2015 and spent two years conducting legal research for the Ministry of Climate Change. While pursuing an additional diploma in foreign policy at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, her interest in human rights sparked when she ventured to Egypt in 2018.
During her time spent working with the Egyptian refugee population, Altamimi noticed there were several groups of overlooked and forgotten refugee children.
“When you read about something, it’s different than when you experience it on the ground,” she said. “Those people needed help, and no one really cared. I think that was the pressure point when I said, ‘I need to do something.’”
Setting aside her government experience, Altamimi said she now wants to pursue a more practical, hands-on job that enables her to work with victims of human rights abuses. She plans to open an independent center for human rights in the UAE that would offer free legal services to domestic violence and sex crime victims, particularly children.
The same is true for fellow IU McKinney LL.M. student Adeola Abatan, who earned her Bachelor at Law degree from Babcock University and a Barrister at Law degree from the Nigerian Law School.
The brutal murder of a woman from Abatan’s hometown was the wake-up call that haunted her for years to come, sparking her passion to defend victims of domestic violence.
“What angered me the most was that following her death, friends and family revealed that the victim had endured series of similar violent attacks from her husband,” Abatan said. “In fact, she had moved out of her matrimonial home at some point but was encouraged by the same family, friends and even clergymen to return home ‘to make it work’”.
Abatan said that patriarchal traditions combined with unrealistic religious doctrines make domestic violence a constant problem in Nigeria. Her deep passion for avenging domestic violence victims has spurred on her desire to learn how to best work with those individuals on a grass-roots level.
Abatan hopes to secure a government job with the Nigerian Ministry of Women’s Affairs to better handle and promote women’s rights, because gaining access to equal opportunity and protection under the law are some of the biggest obstacles women face in her community.
“African women are looked at as victims; that we don’t have rights or control over our lives, which is not true,” she said.
Moving forward, Abatan said there are several “next steps” necessary to advancing women’s rights in Nigeria. That includes improving access to legal support and safe shelters for domestic violence victims.
In the UAE, Altamimi noted major challenges also face women, including a lack of protection against domestic violence and gender-based discrimination.
Both women said they hope to continue gaining experience in the U.S. that will prove valuable to their causes. For Altamimi, that means gleaning knowledge from her externship at the Indianapolis Center for Victims and Humans Rights.
“Being at the center, I’ve seen how it’s grown from 2008 by just taking things one step at a time,” she said. “The takeaway from my experience here is if you want to be successful or more effective, you have to be defined. We all want to help everyone, but you can’t.”
Abatan is continuing to learn from and grow alongside the refugee children she volunteers with at Peace Center for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, which she said reminded her of the importance of instilling the right values and principles in teenagers and children from a young age.