Thanks to the support of an individual donor, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) began a scholarship program for female Congolese law students in October 2011. After viewing the mini-documentary about ABA ROLI’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the donor was moved to give to ABA ROLI, with the express intent of providing scholarships to female law students. Thus far, ABA ROLI has awarded scholarships to three second-year law students at the of and another two scholarships to second-year students at the . The scholarship program will cover their educational costs for another four years, or until they graduate with higher degrees, and will provide them with legal externship opportunities post-graduation to jump-start their careers. The students from the will serve their three-month externship at one of ABA ROLI’s legal aid clinics for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).
Pursuing an advanced degree is an expensive and challenging endeavor for Congolese women, and these scholarships have allowed recipients to overcome many of the financial hardships associated with law school. To cover tuition, fees and lodging, many of the scholarship recipients had taken on part-time jobs, leaving less time for studies. “During my first year,” shared scholarship recipient Chance Ramazani from the , “I faced many problems, especially my inability to pay the cost of tuition…that is why this scholarship has been so important to me.”
ABA ROLI’s legal scholarships were awarded not only on the basis of an applicant’s academic performance and financial need, but also for her commitment to becoming a leader in the fight against SGBV. A committee composed of two ABA ROLI staff attorneys and two professors from each university reviewed the applications, which included an essay on why the applicant believed she should be selected. Short-listed applicants were then interviewed by the selection committee, who asked about the applicant’s goals and career plans. In exchange for the scholarship, recipients must maintain a high grade point average and test well on their annual exams. Additionally, each recipient must volunteer with initiatives that help combat SGBV in her community.
These scholarships not only provide the means for these women to continue their schooling, but are also helping to give shape to both their individual careers and the future of women’s rights in the DRC. At present, these women are planning to practice law, become civil society activists, lead non-governmental organizations or serve in the Congolese government—all with the aim of eliminating SGBV in their country.
“After my studies I will become a lawyer, speaking for those with no voice,” says law student Kelly Shukrani Buhendwa. “This scholarship is for me more than just a dream come true, it is a pillar upon which from now on all my hopes are born—the chance to see a better world where women assume their rightful place.”
To learn more about our work in the Democratic of , contact the Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].