Jordanian Labor Rights Clinic Engages Students, Professors and the Community

May 2012

Upon meeting the 27 law students selected to participate in Yarmouk University’s human rights-focused legal education clinic, Professor Nisreen Mahasneh was wary of their commitment. “When I started working with the students, I got the feeling that they were mostly interested in doing the minimum,” she says. But since the clinic started in February 2012, Mahasneh’s impression of the students has changed considerably and she confesses, “They really surprised me—I think this project is changing their lives.”

Mahasneh has taught for 11 years at Yarmouk University, located in Irbid, Jordan, and she serves as the lead professor for the clinic, which is supported by the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the U.S. Agency for International Development. As is the case for a sister clinic at the University of Jordan in Amman, this is the Yarmouk’s clinic first semester of operation. Mahasneh and two assisting professors selected the students who would participate in the four month program, which was designed to offer practical human rights-focused legal education.

The Yarmouk course, which focuses specifically on labor and employee rights in Jordan, includes a student-led series of final presentations at Irbid’s National Vocational Training Corporation (VTC), a group of government-run schools that provide training for underserved Jordanians entering the labor market. The students are divided into five groups, with each group assigned to research and present two employment law topics, including those related to women’s rights, fair wages and termination. Throughout the semester, the students host seminars on these topics for VTC clients, people who Mahasneh believes are positively impacted by the seminars.

“The audiences—most often young people and those who’ve not finished school—are always surprised to find out how many rights they have under Jordanian law,” Mahasneh shares. “After each presentation the students ask the audience, ‘what did you learn today?’ And the audience always tells us, ‘we didn’t know that we had these rights.’”

“This interaction between law students and the local community is an important accomplishment,” says ABA ROLI Country Director Maha Shomali. “Since ABA ROLI began its legal education reform work in 2004, an objective has been to help universities become less isolated ….This is important in order to expose students to the real practice of law and to build a culture of service among the future judges and lawyers.”

“This opportunity is giving them the chance to learn what they are capable of,” Mahasneh says. “Students in Jordan are not always given good opportunities to discover themselves.” She shares that at first students were unfamiliar with the concept of a clinic. Despite their initial skepticism, many of them now want to work on human rights issues. She considers this development a huge success.

In fact, before the clinic began, many of Mahasneh’s colleagues were not sold on the idea of a hands-on approach to education and neither were they predisposed to working with clinic students. As the program has progressed, those on the periphery have been won over by witnessing the clinic’s ability to motivate students and help citizens. Previously unaffiliated professors have accompanied students to their VTC presentations, while Yarmouk University’s drama and media students are producing a mini-film about the clinic. The university newspaper has visited the clinic and conducted interviews with students for an article. University President Dr. Abdullah al-Musa has been thrilled with the clinic’s progress, and with the involvement of the broader Yarmouk University community.

In addition to their practical skills-building coursework and their clinical experiences, the students have also been visited by speakers from various sectors of Jordanian society. These included judges, non-governmental organization representatives and the media. The presentations have opened the students’ eyes to the great number of opportunities that await them after graduation. “Our students now feel that they can work on human rights cases,” Mahasneh says. “They understand that efforts such as the clinic impact not only the law, but also economics and media representation.”

While the pilot semester will conclude in May, capped off by the students’ final presentations at the VTC and a screening of the film about the clinic, a new group of students will begin their clinic course in fall 2012. The impact of the pilot semester continues to be felt—the VTC, in cooperation with the Ministry of Labor, has requested that 1,000 copies of the student-produced materials be put into booklet for distribution to all VTC students in the Kingdom. Professor Mahasneh is certain that both she and the students will want to help distribute the materials themselves.

To learn more about our work in Jordan, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org

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