Katharine Cornish, JD Candidate 2020, joined Professor John Packer in South Sudan for a Women’s Leadership Forum organized by the UN

Posted on Wednesday, July 17, 2019

In May 2019, I had the opportunity to accompany Professor John Packer, Director of the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre, to Juba, South Sudan to observe and assist with a Women’s Leadership Forum organized by the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). During the trip, we also had a chance to meet with the Canadian Ambassador to South Sudan and attend a regional conference related to the South Sudan National Dialogue process. This opportunity stemmed from my directed research project work on women's participation in the National Dialogue process under Professor Packer's supervision. My travel to Juba was funded through the Neuberger-Jesin Professorship of International Conflict Resolution which Professor Packer holds.

South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation, becoming independent from Sudan in 2011. It is also one of the world’s poorest countries. Since its independence, the country has experienced civil strife causing massive displacement and food insecurity. After several failing peace agreements, a revitalized peace agreement was signed in September 2018. This agreement provides a blueprint for establishing a transitional government of national unity and includes provisions for women’s representation across all levels of government. The purpose of the Leadership Forum was to help equip women to participate meaningfully in the peace process and discuss strategies for meeting the 35 percent minimum quota for women’s participation. One feature of the Forum was the presence of two female politicians from the region, including a former minister and presidential candidate from Kenya and an opposition leader from Sierra Leone, who shared their own experiences as women in politics.

Accompanying Professor Packer presented a unique opportunity to see how UNMISS functions and works with other parts of the UN to deliver its mandate. It also exposed me to some of the different roles lawyers can play in conflict-affected and post-conflict country contexts. The opportunities I had to interact with women leaders from South Sudanese civil society were a major highlight of the trip for me. It was inspiring to see their zeal and determination for a meaningful role in the next phase of political transition in South Sudan. It was also special to attend the regional National Dialogue conference, which provided fresh perspective on the research I had conducted and a chance to make new connections and to gather first hand updates on the process.

While the trip presented some hiccups and challenges along the way, it was one of the most memorable opportunities I’ve had to date at law school. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity and exposure, which will undoubtedly help inform my future directions in law.


Katharine Cornish

JD Candidate 2020

Back to top