Max Weidenfeld travel grant reflections by Ayushi Agrawal
As a human rights advocate with a focus on gender, I was keenly looking for an opportunity to learn how my current studies as a law student at Oxford can be applied for the benefit of stakeholder groups, and bridge the essential gap between academic theorising and relevant practise.
The Max Weidenfeld travel grant allowed me to travel to Delhi during the spring vacation 2019 to intern with the Samana Centre for Gender, Policy and Law for three weeks. It is a gender consultancy focusing on gender diversity and inclusion, and helps institutions better implement laws, by assisting them in designing workplace policies, conducting workshops and creating more sensitivity to gender issues, ultimately aimed at empowering women and the LGBTQ community and furthering their inclusion and growth in the workplace.
In two of my courses, Comparative Human Rights and Comparative Equality Law, a significant portion of the class discussion is centred on how rights ultimately percolate down to those for whom they are intended, through the institutions that mediate them i.e. the legislature, the judiciary and public & private workplaces. As an intern at the Samana Centre, my work was a direct application of what I’m learning in those classes.
My first project revolved around researching paternity leave policies in companies around the world, and highlighting practices that can be followed by willing companies in India, that do not currently have a law for paternity leave. The comparative nature of my courses at Oxford assisted me in undertaking the comparative research for this project, and also made me aware of the vast difference across countries when it comes to laws that further gender equality.
My second project involved research on harassment of trans-gender individuals in India. While I was aware of the problem; this research made me aware of the whole range of discriminatory practices and harassment faced by the transgender community, which can include violence by police, harassment in schools and at the workplace and barriers to accessing basic amenities such as toilets.
My third project required that I research the position of women in the legal community in India. My findings showed dismal representation of women, especially in professional positions such as advocates, judges and corporate law firm partners. This insight has only strengthened my resolve to work for gender equality in India.
My final project consisted of making a comprehensive index of all the sexual harassment cases that have come before Indian courts since the passing of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act, 2013. Reading through these judgments, which were numbered at more than 130, and encompassed the Supreme Court, and 17 different High Courts, reinforced in my mind the vastness and prevalence of the problem.
Having now finished the internship, I feel that I have gained significant practical insight into the context of my own country, which will definitely go on to enrich all that I have learnt and will learn in the classroom at Oxford.
In addition to the internship, I was able to visit Allahabad, a city in Uttar Pradesh, where my father is currently posted as an Indian Railways employee. While I was there, I participated in the pro-bono efforts of the Indian Railways to increase access to education for poor children who live on the railway platforms. These children spend their entire lives on the platforms, and often have no family. They either beg or sell food/drinks to support themselves. The initiative aims to introduce children of all age groups to the joy of learning, by engaging them in short stories and preliminary mathematics lessons and giving them a space where they can simply be children instead of worrying about making a living. Participating in these sessions reinvigorated my sense of duty towards the lesser privileged people of my country, and gratitude for everything I’ve been privileged enough to experience, especially my education.
I would like to thank the Weidenfeld Hoffmann Trust for awarding me the Max Weidenfeld Travel Grant, which allowed me to have this educational and fulfilling experience.