Meet Valentine Khaminwa: Research CoordinatorMarch 20, 2009
In February, I had the privilege of interviewing 2006–07 International Fellow Valentine Khaminwa at the AAUW national office in Washington, D.C. Valentine was born in Kenya but grew up in Zimbabwe, where she worked for a small legal nonprofit, the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association. This position gave Valentine “a taste of human rights in practice,” as she assisted women and children with legal issues such as inheritance, custody, marriage rights, divorce, and HIV/AIDS issues. While with the organization, Valentine actively researched and wrote on topics such as the nexus between HIV/AIDS and domestic abuse, an issue steeped in misinformation and lack of knowledge.
Currently Valentine is working as a research coordinator for the Equal Rights Center in Washington, D.C., where she researches and writes about human rights issues. At the center Valentine also oversees compliance in case settlement terms. “Once you have a settlement, the work isn’t done,” she said, “You still need to make sure the company is in compliance.”
Before signing on with the Equal Rights Center, Valentine earned a master’s of law degree from American University’s Washington College of Law, where she specialized in international law, gender, and human rights. She found it an enriching experience to study with the diverse and accomplished student body there. Valentine was able to pursue her degree thanks in part to the AAUW fellowship; in fact, without it she would not have been able to study in the United States. At the Washington College of Law Valentine also had the opportunity to work as a research assistant for the U.N. Independent Expert on Minority Issues.
Through her experiences both in the United States and abroad, Valentine has gained a deeper understanding of human rights issues on an international scale. Although Zimbabwe and the United States are culturally very different, Valentine said she has seen many of the same issues for women across the board. “For the countries I have lived in in Africa and for the United States raising awareness is the most important human rights issue; in many cases the infrastructure exists but awareness about education and healthcare need to be improved.”
Looking back over the past five years Valentine is proud to be applying what she has learned and to be continually learning. Firsthand experience, according to Valentine, is crucial in the learning process. “Traveling puts a face to everything and gives you a better understanding of people and situations,” she said. With all of this valuable experience, Valentine has started to look longingly back to her home in Africa where she feels she can have more of an impact. One day she hopes to work for an international nonprofit through which she can return home to work on human rights issues.