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International Education Week 2021: Satang Nabaneh

Satang Nabaneh is Director of Programs at the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center. She is native to The Gambia in West Africa and received her Bachelor’s at the University of the Gambia, and her Master’s and Doctorate of Laws from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. She is a legal scholar and human rights activist and practitioner. 

What led to your passion for international education and exchange?

There is not really one moment that fueled my passion for international education and exchange. I have been part of a collective group of activists on the African continent since the age of nine. We were part of something greater than ourselves. I was a child activist fighting for social, economic and human rights for children and others and at the age of 12, I was the Gambian child representative to the Children’s Parliament of the World. This selection led to other things in a ripple effect: I traveled to Senegal with the then vice-president of The Gambia, and became an outspoken leader and African feminist speaking on the leadership potential of girls within a patriarchal society where you find inequalities such as child marriage. In 2010, I was one of Africa’s 25 Most Outstanding Emerging Women Leaders, so I participated in the MILEAD fellowship program in Ghana, which led to co-founding a national feminist collective, “Think Young Women.” My involvement in human rights activism then led to getting law degrees at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and to also participating at an international program through the US Department of State and numerous international dialogues with diverse peoples. I also further developed my global awareness by meeting people from many different countries at the University of Pretoria where for example, there were 29 students from 18 different countries in my Master’s cohort. Our differences in religion and upbringing taught me a great deal, and I learned about LGBTQ rights, an issue I had not known as much about before moving to South Africa. Coming from a mostly Muslim country such as The Gambia, this was an awakening. So more than anything leading me to this passion, I have been immersed in cultural education and exchange as a life-long process of reflective practice and learning.

How is intercultural competence important in law and human rights?

The court system and larger legal system does not exist in isolation from questions of intercultural understanding. Very few lawyers or legal professionals can go through a career without encountering clients or people from different backgrounds. It is absolutely essential to learn these skills in order to be in a better position to represent a client or to advocate for different types of people in the legal system. While intercultural competence is often not a significant part of law school, to have the skill to listen, be able to build trust with clients and effectively communicate their needs is critical particularly in the field of immigration, with asylum seekers and refugees who need legal professionals who can view the world from different perspectives. Furthermore, human rights is part of a global system that is capable of responding to power differentials through specific protocols and standards that tap into distinct regional contexts, such as the African continent by way of example. Deeper understanding across cultures allows us to move past the traps of cultural relativism and push for global equity in the human rights sphere. One such issue in the period of COVID is vaccine inequity and the importance of universal access to health care as a human right as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Ultimately, intercultural competence teaches us to value the lives of the entire global community equally and fight for that equity not only through legal channels but also emerging from the actions and organizing of people in everyday spaces. I hope to get into many of these issues in the course I am teaching on “Rights and Development in Africa” which will include a practicum in Malawi for students that is intentionally structured to move past saviorism in relationship to Africa and to understand the amazing work in human rights, law and development being done by local activists and communities. Intercultural competence involves skills that cut across fields and contexts and that are useful for everyone. Given our increasingly diverse countries and increasingly global world, building intercultural competence is vital for the realization of human rights for all without leaving anyone behind and advancing a shared respect for human dignity.

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