Using Fact-Finding to Combat Violence Against Women in Ghana, Uganda, and the United States: Lessons Learned as a Clinic Student, Clinic Supervisor, and Practitioner

Lisa Vollendorf Martin, The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law


Gender-based violence threatens the lives and livelihood of women throughout the world. Despite this reality, the laws and policies of many states fail to offer women effective relief and protection from violence. To develop policy reforms effective to combat gender-based violence in a particular community, advocates must first obtain a clear understanding of the nature of the problem in that community. Fact-finding is a critical tool that can enable women's rights advocates to gain a clear understanding of women's experience of violence in a particular community by facilitating the documentation of individual human rights abuses and the identification of patterns of conduct that can reveal root causes of a social problem.

In this essay, I will describe the ways in which fact-finding informed my work to combat gender-based violence in three different contexts: (1) addressing domestic violence in Ghana as a student in Georgetown's International Women's Human Rights Clinic ("the Clinic"), (2) addressing female genital cutting in Uganda as a supervisor on a subsequent Clinic fact-finding mission, and (3) addressing the impact of domestic violence on women's ability to obtain adequate housing in the United States as a practitioner at Women Empowered Against Violence (WEAVE). In each of these contexts, the commonalities in the collected stories of women's experiences of violence pointed to unique potential policy solutions.