Meet Lorraine AndersonJune 12, 2009
Since February, when I turn on the radio in the morning I’m inundated with dismal news about the current state of the economy. Would you like some foreclosures with your corn flakes? As everyone is thinking about the economy, Lorraine Anderson, a 1999–00 International Fellow from Canada, adds a new depth to the role economics plays on the international human rights scene.
Lorraine sees a link between development and economic empowerment in the fight for women’s rights and specifically in ending violence against women. Economic empowerment can open women’s eyes to their current situation, give them a voice, or even allow them to free themselves from violence.
Working as a coordination officer for the United Nations Country Team in Liberia at a time when the country was recovering from a 14-year war in which sexual violence was used as a weapon against women, Lorraine gained firsthand knowledge of the important intersection between economic development and women’s rights. She learned to look at women not as victims but as empowered survivors.
“We need to give women the skills to build up their own capacity so they can advocate for themselves,” explained Lorraine. During her time in Liberia, Lorraine worked on a national multiyear campaign to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, developing an extensive system for reporting sexual violence and abuse, as well as conducting trainings on how to use the reporting system. One of Lorraine’s career highlights was her role in the development of the joint program coordinating United Nations support for the Liberian government’s initiatives in fighting gender-based violence.
Drawing from her many experiences, Lorraine says it is important for those who are working in the field of international women’s rights to remember “there is no monolithic block of women.” Rather, it is important to look at women through the intersections of race, class, economics, culture, etc., to see how they experience their own reality. She cautioned against using a generic tool kit, advising instead to create local solutions to implement women’s human rights.
For those interested in working with women’s rights internationally, Lorraine suggested volunteering domestically in an area of interest to gain knowledge about the issues, attending workshops and conferences, and building a network of support. Lorraine’s own path began at the Ministry of the Attorney General, Office of the Children’s Lawyer in Ontario, a position that she says taught her the “daily bread of being a lawyer.” From there, with help from the AAUW fellowship, Lorraine obtained her master’s degree in public international and human rights law from Columbia University.
“Without AAUW I wouldn’t have been able to pursue the international career that I did,” said Lorraine, explaining that while at Columbia she made many friends and colleagues who have served as a network of support and information. One friend was Maria Graterol, another AAUW fellow interested in international law and human rights, with whom Lorraine remains in contact today.
After completing a Fine Fellowship in 2001, Lorraine worked as a consultant for the United Nations in Guyana developing a gender mainstreaming strategy for the UN Country Team. From Guyana, she moved to Liberia, but these days she is back in Canada volunteering for the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and looking for the perfect position that combines her legal skills and international human rights experiences. She is also studying French and has plans to become a yoga instructor. After an adventurous beginning, Lorraine is now hoping to slow down a little.