From law student to pioneering researcher in disability rights and colonial legacies

Damarie Kalonzo, a postgraduate researcher at the School of Law, shares her academic journey from her initial interest in disability law to her current PhD research on colonial legacies in Kenya.

Damarie Kalonzo has been a part of the School of Law community since 2015. After completing her Law LLB in 2018, she pursued an LLM in International Human Rights Law, which she finished in 2019. Her academic journey has been profoundly influenced by her personal experience as well as her interest in disability law, human rights, and international law, guiding both her research interests and career path.

In a recent interview with the University of Leeds, as part of a collection featuring members of the 100 Black Women Professors NOW network, Damarie reflected on her journey, recalling how deeply moved she was during her first disability law lecture in her undergraduate studies. This experience was pivotal, helping her articulate personal struggles using the language of rights. This insight drove her to pursue a master’s degree in international human rights law at the School of Law.

On top of her academic pursuits, Damarie engaged in valuable volunteering projects at the School of Law. She worked on research with and about families of disabled children in the UK who struggle to access social care and health services that public bodies have a duty to provide. Simultaneously, she was a research assistant for her international law professor, who was looking into decolonising the international law curriculum.

These experiences coalesced when Damarie began developing her PhD project at the School of Law. In the interview with the University of Leeds, she explains,

All this came together when I began to think about my research proposal. I like to think about it as a combination of my personal experience and my academic journey. So I began to think about the barriers to disability rights implementation in Kenya. Kenya, this post-colonial state I call home. On one hand, we have these beautiful laws and policies striving towards international standards, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And on the other, a very stark reality.

As such, Damarie's PhD research project is centred on the experiences of women caring for children with disabilities in low-income settings. It aims to explore the legal and institutional barriers they may face when seeking social assistance. Particularly, she explores which of these barriers are a result of the lasting legacy of colonial welfare ideologies, systems and mechanisms.

Damarie’s goal is to model a responsive social care system that addresses the specific challenges faced by women caregivers from low-income backgrounds. As she explains,

Through my research, I'm hoping to identify the barriers to disability rights implementation in a postcolonial context to begin to understand why and how some services are accessible to some people, but not others.

Her thesis, titled ‘The Legacy of Colonial Welfare in Kenya and Its Impact on Caring for Children with Disabilities in Low-Income Settings’, is supervised by Professor Luke Clements and Dr Priyasha Saksena.

Damarie will soon be presenting at the University of Leeds’ Africa Week, a three-day conference fostering debate and discussion on open education and knowledge exchange systems, informed by African scholars and researchers. The event is hosted through a collaboration of researchers, partners and practitioners, including the University's Centre for African Studies (LUCAS), Cultural Institute, Africa Strategy Group and Leeds University Union. To register for the conference, please click here