Meet Maria Herminia Graterol: Women’s Rights ConsultantApril 27, 2009
After receiving her first master’s degree from Columbia University, Maria Herminia Graterol traveled to Thailand and, on the plane, met a woman associated with International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) in Malaysia. The woman told Maria about her work to connect women’s law and development organizations across Asia, and Maria agreed to volunteer with the organization as an international advocacy officer on a global legal campaign for one month. She ended up staying on for two years, helping to establish task forces to facilitate participation of women’s organizations across Asia. Even today, Maria continues as a consultant for IWRAW conducting workshops throughout Asia.
The decision to pursue a master’s degree at Columbia University was an important one for Maria, and it was possible in part because of the International Fellowship she received from AAUW. Growing up in a Latin American culture, Maria was often struck by the inequalities women faced. Determined to do something to combat this injustice, Maria studied women’s international rights. She said the biggest takeaways were finding a community of people who specialized in what she was interested in and getting validation early in her career to study women’s issues through support from AAUW.
After leaving Malaysia, Maria went to Australia to work at the Human Rights Center at the University of New South Wales and established herself as an international consultant, a position she says improved her credibility with others in the field. While in Australia, she began to see a strong connection between women’s rights and management matters, and so she returned to United States to pursue a second master’s degree, this time from Harvard University. She gained invaluable management skills, which she could then directly apply in the field.
Today Maria’s work as an international consultant focuses on women’s right and international law — primarily the Convention on the Elimination on all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In her current work with, for example, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, Maria explores the many ways CEDAW and its 16 articles — ranging from trafficking and prostitution to health care and family planning — can be applied in different international situations: natural disasters, war, epidemics, and so on. She also provides guidance on how CEDAW can be used to push for positive women’s policy changes. Maria says an enjoyable part of her work is seeing common themes crossing physical and economic borders as she works with women to achieve equality.
While Maria may seem like a woman on a mission, when asked about her five-year goals she says she prefers to let things happen as they come. Her advice for those pursuing higher education is fitting with this life philosophy: “Higher education allows you to try things out and to transition between areas.” Maria’s openness and passion have taken her in exciting directions, and she is an inspiration for all of us about the many possibilities available in working toward women’s equality internationally.