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DAAD PRIZE WINNER: THE LONG WAY TO JUSTICE

08/01/2017 For Silvia Rojas Castro, good grades alone do not make an excellent student. Surely, personality – and courage – also matter. The 26-year-old Colombian woman has both as she is fighting for equal rights and against intolerance. This has earned her the prize awarded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for foreign students.

Silvia Rojas Castro’s completed law degree alone was not enough for her. “Post-war society needs interdisciplinary knowledge to solve its problems” the young woman explains. In Colombia, an armed conflict involving left-wing guerrilla groups, right-wing paramilitaries and the Colombian military has been raging since the 1960s. It was only in the summer of 2016 that the Colombian government concluded a peace agreement with the rebels. Silvia Rojas Castro would like, once and for all, to help stabilise the conditions in Colombia, her home country. That is why she made her way to Germany. In 2015, the jurist came to Leuphana to do a Master's degree. Before long, she successfully acquired a Master's degree in Public Economics, Law and Politics. "The course of studies like the one I am completing here is not offered in Colombia", she explains. In her view, Lüneburg Master’s Programme combines the all relevant contents of political science. Armed with this knowledge, she would like, at a later stage, to help improve the situation at key posts in her country.

“Many crimes are not prosecuted”

When she applied for the DAAD scholarship, she was already successful in her profession. She worked as a lawyer at the National University of Bogota and at the Research Centre for Law, Justice and Society with a focus on women’s and minority rights. Colombia is still characterised by a conservative understanding of gender roles, the young woman explains. Abortion is still forbidden, with few exceptions, and prosecution for sexual violence is anything but zealous. Silvia Rojas Castro reports that "Many crimes are not prosecuted". The young jurist has researched the issue of how to convict offenders. "What legal resources should be made available to prosecutors so that they can arrest the perpetrators more easily? “ Silvia Rojas Castro explains.

Gender equality strongly contributes to securing peace. "Wars are motivated by inequality," explains the young woman. This is also the case in Colombia. Big landowners dominate agriculture; many people are poor. Although the conflict yielded to peace, society remains unstable. Inequality affects only women, but also sexual minorities. Silvia Rojas Castro reports that "a student has been killed in Colombia because of his homosexuality" and says that "This is something that should not be allowed to happen anymore!"

This tragic incident is one of the reasons why she has been active in the Lüneburg Registered Charity “Schlau e.V.”, an association struggling against the exclusion of people of different sexual orientation. Working there provided her with important tools for the enforcement of gender equality. This association goes around in schools and provides enlightenment. This would hardly be possible in Colombia. Nevertheless: "Here, too, some parents complain about sexual education in the classroom," says Silvia Rojas Castro. They mean “Our children should not be made gay”.

Confident and courageous

Despite her self-confident and courageous attitude to life, she had butterflies in her stomach two years ago when she received the news that she was granted the scholarship. "But I wanted to experience another world," she recalls. However, Germany doesn’t really feel so unfamiliar to her. Perhaps because she has already completed a grammar seminar in her hometown Bogota and attended a six-months’ language course here. But despite this support, it is impressive what excellent German Silvia Rojas Castro speaks. Nevertheless, she is homesick for Colombia: "My family and friends are there. I miss the food and the music“, says Silvia Rojas Castro. For example, in her home country freshly squeezed maracuja juice is served at every lunch. "This is unfortunately a luxury article in Germany" she says. But she recovered some home feelings when she moved to Hamburg. The Hanseatic metropolis is a big city - just like Bogota.



Author: Marietta Hülsmann, Universitätskommunikation. News from the university and about research, teaching and study may be sent to news@leuphana.de