Convocation profile: Anne Mitaru

June 2010 | The Ring | Online here

When graduate law student Anne Mitaru saw a posting for an internship with Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), she wondered, “Is this possible?”

Mitaru, who was born in Canada and raised mostly in Kenya (she earned a bachelor of laws degree from the University of Nairobi), has a background in international law and women’s rights, and DAWN—a network of feminist scholars, researchers and activists—is a major organization in the field.

“I, of course, seized the day,” she says. “Any feminist working on global South issues would want to have an opportunity to meet the people behind DAWN.”

Through the internship, which was part of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives’ 2009/10 Students for Development Program and funded by the Canadian International Development Agency, Mitaru spent four months working as a program assistant with DAWN at its office in the Philippines.

CAPI has been offering the international experiential learning opportunities since 2003. Students and graduates gain valuable work experience, along with the benefit of research and networking opportunities. “It was such an opportunity to learn, with so much to do,” Mitaru says.

It was an even better match than she first realized: Her thesis for her master of laws degree focuses on development financing, offering a feminist legal critique of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness; DAWN co-ordinates the Women’s Working Group on Financing for Development at the United Nations.

The internship gave her access to DAWN’s partners, allowing her to ask questions and learn about the issues first-hand. The internship also gave Mitaru experience in a different part of the world. “I had a good grasp of organizing women’s rights in an African context,” she says. “It was interesting to learn about the Asia-Pacific and understand the differences and similarities in the two spheres.”

Now back in Nairobi working with an international women’s rights organization, Mitaru, who is graduating from UVic this month, is considering a return to school to do a doctorate. “DAWN presents a strong case for what I call academic activism,” she says. “These are women who are in the area of academia but continue to be activists.” It was powerful, she says, “just knowing you can be part of both worlds and absolutely contribute positively and strongly in each of those worlds.”

Initially drawn to law by the drama of the courtroom, she has come to realize that understanding law gives her the ability to make a difference.

“I felt there were lots of things that could be better for many, many people,” she says. “This is a space I can use.”