Sometimes the best experiences are the totally unexpected ones. 

I completed my LL.M degree at the University of Michigan in May 2022, with a focus on human rights law and advocacy. It turned out that the faculty´s International Center for International and Comparative Law offered a summer position at a human rights organization based in Windhoek, Namibia. I was eager to do something different to complement my studies and decided to give it a shot. 

For the summer I have been working for Legal Assistance Centre, and specifically for their Gender Research & Advocacy Project. The project works with broad issues such as gender-based violence, child protection, LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice in Namibia. The organization works through research, advocacy and strategic litigation. 

Throughout the summer, I have been working with a variety of projects, covering legal topics such as divorce, harassment and sexual exploitation. Namibia is a pluralistic legal system, combining elements of a common and civil law system. The year in the U.S. provided for me an important background for working in a legal system applying elements of common law. 

Namibia gained its independence in 1990 with the support of the international community. Human rights are embedded in its Constitution and its institutions. However, the complex colonial history and the South African governance and apartheid have left their marks in the society struggling with issues of corruption and inequality. Working at the LAC has provided first-hand knowledge of how important the role civil society and their work has in promoting a human rights based approach in both individual and institutional level. 

An important piece of the LAC´s work is to promote access to justice by publishing accessible legal material and spreading awareness and knowledge of rights. Part of my work has also been research on pre-independence regulations to understand what laws and regulations are still in place, and doing research on government institutions. In a transitional democracy, promoting the rule of law and access to justice is an important piece of human rights advocacy.

Unexpected and unique opportunities

I think the best part of my experience has been working with both Namibian and other international lawyers. With colleagues from three different continents, there is a lot to learn from one another. Sometimes the individual struggles or strategies that civil society actors need to confront certain issues are strikingly similar.

"I am coming back to Finland with a wider toolbox and experience than I could have imagined before taking off to the Fulbright journey."

Navigating the culture and everyday life is sometimes difficult, but I have found it fun to see some of the similarities Namibia and Finland share. Both are huge countries with a relatively small population on the other opposites of the world map. Namibians are extremely welcoming and friendly (and also love their beer!). I´ve been also able to travel and see some of the breath-taking landscapes in the country.

I am very honoured about this opportunity to work with civil society advocacy promoting gender equality. It has strengthened my belief that there are ways for individuals to help create more equitable society and fight for social justice.

Fulbright can truly create unexpected and unique opportunities, especially for public interest students and lawyers. I have been able to connect with a human rights lawyers network beyond the year spent in the U.S. 

I am coming back to Finland with a wider toolbox and experience than I could have imagined before taking off to the Fulbright journey.

Black and white headshot of Siiri Sinnemäki
Siiri Sinnemäki
2021-22 ASLA-Fulbright Graduate Grant, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Siiri Sinnemäki (LL.M) is a human rights lawyer based in Helsinki. She spent the academic year 2021-22 in the University of Michigan Law School as an ASLA-Fulbright Graduate Grantee.