Published : 06 Mar 2017, 19:55
Unity Dow (born 23 April 1959) is a judge, human rights activist, and writer from Botswana. She came from a rural background that tended toward traditional values of the African kind. Her mother could not read English and in most cases decision-making was done by men.
Dow studied law at the University of Botswana and Swaziland (LLB 1983), which included two years spent studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Her Western education caused a mixture of respect and suspicion.
In 1991, Unity Dow co-founded the private Baobab Primary School in Gaborone which remains one of the best primary schools in Botswana. She also co-founded the first AIDS-specific NGO in the country "AIDS ACTION TRUST."
Dow earned her acclaim as a lawyer particularly through her stances on women's rights. She was the plaintiff in a case that allowed the children of women by foreign nationals to be considered Batswana (Attorney General of Botswana v Unity Dow (1992). Before this case, according to tradition and prior precedent, nationality only descended from the father. She later became Botswana's first female High Court judge.
As a novelist, Dow has published five books. These books often deal with issues concerning the struggle between Western and traditional values. They also involve her interest in gender issues and her nation's poverty. Unity Dow contributed to the book "Schicksal Afrika" (Destiny Africa) by the former German President Horst Koehler in 2009. In May 2010, Harvard Press published her latest book, "Saturday is for Funerals," which describes the AIDS problem in Africa.
Since 2005, Unity Dow has been a member of a UN mission to Sierra Leone to review domestic application of international women's human rights norms. On 13 December 2006, she was one of three judges who ruled on the now internationally acclaimed Kgalagadi (San, Bushmen or Basarwa) court decision, concerning the rights of the San to return to their ancestral lands.
Unity Dow has been a Member of Special mission at the invitation of the Rwandan Government and UN special court for Rwanda since 2007. The purpose of this mission is to review the Rwandan Judiciaries preparedness to take over the hearing of the 1994 genocide cases.
Dow was a visiting professor of Law at the School of Law, Columbia University, New York, during the fall semester 2009, and further at Washington and Lee, Lexington USA, 2009, and University of Cincinnati, Ohio USA, 2009.
After retiring from the High Court Botswana in 2009, after 11 years of service, she opened the Legal Firm "Dow & Associates" in Botswana February 2010. Dow was also sworn in as Justice of the IICDRC (Interim Independent Constitutional Dispute Resolution Court) of Kenya by the Kenyan President to serve implementing the new constitution in Kenya.
On 14 July 2010 Dow was awarded the French Medal of the Légion d'honneur de France by representatives of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy for her human rights activities.
At the Women of the World Summit in March 2011 and 2012 in New York, Unity Dow was mentioned as one of 150 women who shake the world.
Unity Dow served as Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists. She was first elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2009. In 2006 she was also elected to the Executive Committee and subsequently re-elected in 2008. In March 2011 she was elected the Chairperson of the Executive Committee succeeding Dr. Rajeev Dhavan, India, effective June 2011 to June 2012.
Unity Dow is the only motswana listed under the world recognised feminists for her advocation in women rights from the period of 1940 to present.
CNN presented Unity Dow as one of Africa's most engaging personalities in their weekly show African Voices on 29 June 2012.
On 6 July 2012 Unity Dow was appointed by The United Nations Human Rights Council as one of three independent experts to conduct a fact-finding mission on how Israel's West Bank settlements affect Palestinians. A preliminary version of the report published January 31, 2013 aroused much discussion.
In 2013, Dow decided to enter politics and to serve her country the extensive expertise she has gained in a variety of fields.
On 28 October 2014 Unity Dow was nominated by President Ian Khama of Botswana as 'special elected member of parliament' and confirmed by the new 11th Parliament of Botswana. Unity Dow was also appointed Assistant Minister of Education in the Government of Botswana, responsible for Higher / Tertiary Education and Skills Development. On 1 March 2015 President Ian Khama of Botswana appointed Unity Dow as Minister of Education and Skills Development in the Government of Botswana.
On 14 November 2014 Unity Dow was successful in representing LEGABIBO, the Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals of Botswana in a trial versus the State of Botswana to register LEGABIBO as an organization in Botswana. Previously the State has refused the registration on arguments it would be unconstitutional.
Unity Dow received Awards and Honours (selected): Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio USA: Doctor of Laws: Honorary degree awarded 19 May 2001; Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey: The William Brennan Human Rights Award, 14 April 2003; The Vanguard Women Leadership Award: March 2004; St. Michael College, Vermont USA: Doctor of Laws: Honorary Degree awarded May 2007; The Phyllis N. Stern Distinguished Lectureship Award: 11 July 2008; The Prominent Woman in International Law Award: 26 March 2009 in Washington DC; University of Edinburgh: Doctor of Laws: Honorary Degree awarded 30 July 2009; French Medal of Honour (Légion d'honneur) July 2010;
Honours and awards
2010: Legion of Honour
2003: William Brennan Human Rights Award by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
2004: Vanguard Women Leadership Award
2008: The Phyllis N Stern Distinguished Lectureship Award
2001: Kenyon College, Doctor of Laws
2007: Saint Michael's College, Doctor of Laws
Far and Beyon' Longman Botswana, 2000, Spinifex, 2001
The Screaming of the Innocent, Spinifex 2002, Double Storey, 2003
Juggling Truths, Spinifex, 2003
The Heavens May Fall, Double Storey, 2006
Saturday is for Funerals, Harvard Press, 2010
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