Conference: Embassies in crisis

Earlier this month, Women in Foreign Policy interviewee Dr. Rogelia Pastor-Castro convened a conference about 'Embassies in crisis'. During the event, diplomats and academics discussed how embassies and their staff act during difficult times, from World War II to more recent civil wars such as Yemen and Ukraine. 

Lamia Bazir speaks about the challenges women face in their attempt to lead

This is a guest post written by Lamia Bazir

Last September, I spoke on the theme of “Women and Leadership” at the 3rd Annual Leadership Conference organized by the Leadership Development Institute in Morocco. This event mattered to me as I felt honored to see that my trajectory inspired young students and activists. I also felt the responsibility to share my own struggles and learnings, as it is not always easy for women to become leaders.

For me, leadership development is not a shallow process. I explained that “the goal of leadership is to excel, reach full potential, inspire and push other people up. Do not summarize it into a pursuit of positions or titles.” I believe leadership goes beyond being in a position of power in the economic, social or political fields, but that it entails the ability to inspire, mobilize and lead others towards positive action.

Then, I analyzed how despite some progress, women still face a glass ceiling as few women are at the top of many professions worldwide. On the one hand, the structure itself can create obstacles to women’s advancement. For instance, legislation does not always provide equal rights for women and consequently excludes them from certain services, power circles and even professions. Unequal access to education can prevent women from building the capacity and the skills to increase their options and enable them to advance.

Even in some countries where both legislation and education have been improved for women, the job market is not adapted to women’s needs and lifestyles as it is often fashioned as if all women were single men. Work requirements, hours and modalities often don't take into account women’s life cycles (such as childbearing and rearing) and have to gain in flexibility in order to enable effectiveness, persistence, and productivity for female workers.

On the other hand, I shed light on the soft limitations for women, embodied in what I call “social and cultural inhibitors”. This includes gender stereotypes that create pressure and expectations limiting women’s choices and confining their behavior. This also translates in some attitudes towards female education and career that do not encourage leadership and promotion.

Consequently, I recommended:

1) the integration of leadership modules in school curricula to encourage women to develop both the skills and the will to pursue leadership and executive vocations

2) the showcasing and celebration of female role models.

Finally, I explained that the reason I have been successful so far is that I developed personal knowledge and strength. Leadership skills are insufficient without a strong personal project. Both women and men are subject to external pressure and inner doubts that can lead them to lower ambition and lose leadership assets unless they have built the capacity to resist, thanks to a strong faith in their assets and aspirations. Therefore, I advised students attending the conference to work on themselves, now!

So, You Want To Be a Human Rights Lawyer...

By Hilary Stauffer

As pictures from her widely photographed wedding to a certain Hollywood powerbroker were splashed across the internet, I ordered a magnum of Veuve Clicquot in honor of Amal Clooney (née Alamuddin), for so effortlessly demonstrating the innate glamour of the human rights world.

This isn't the first time we've seen an elegant brunette practicing humanitarianism with panache: recall, if you will, Colin Firth’s character in the Bridget Jones movies. Mark Darcy was a “top human rights barrister,” and very handsome and well-dressed besides. The new Mrs. Clooney—in addition to being extremely competent, well-educated, widely respected and tri-lingual—also happens to look great stepping off a boat in Venice, with the wind artfully blowing her hair to and fro. This, I should let you know upfront, is just part of the basic requirements for being a successful human rights lawyer.

I can speak authoritatively on this topic because I, too, am a 30-something human rights lawyer living in London, and my life is an endless round of cocktail parties, movie stars and running from the paparazzi (in heels). I commute solely by helicopter (you simply have no choice, what with the traffic in Central London), and I insist that my personal assistants keep detailed spreadsheets of all incoming calls from world leaders, color-coded by crisis. Really, it’s just too difficult to keep everything organized otherwise.

I jest, of course. Amal Alamuddin Clooney’s newfound fame and über-glam personal life do not resemble mine in any way whatsoever, much to my ever-lasting dismay. It is a shame that the media’s obsession with her wardrobe outweighs their interest in her substantive case load, but the fault for that imbalance does not lie with her. Nevertheless, the swirl of publicity that her nuptials has prompted provides a perfect opportunity to talk about how one “becomes” a “human rights lawyer”—a question I am asked by young, idealistic law students with some frequency.

Despite the air of mystery and vague superiority that some of us can be accused of cultivating, there is no special test or bar exam you have to complete in order to become a “human rights lawyer.” Rather, you just become a lawyer (or a solicitor, or a barrister, or a jurist) according to the prerequisites of the jurisdiction where you want to practice…and then you choose to take on human rights cases. That’s all there is to it: you get to define yourself as a human rights lawyer. There’s no global regulatory authority acting as gatekeeper, no worldwide bar association that decides whether you get to take part in this rarefied profession. Among the abundant varieties of human rights lawyers, you’ll find sole practitioners, NGO program managerslaw firm associatesgovernmental civil servants, and legal officers at the United Nations. Obviously, there will be personal considerations and logistical practicalities along the way, but the same could be said of pursuing any legal career.

Unsure of where to begin? Well, it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is generally considered to be the foundational document for modern international human rights law. Drafted in 1948 by the member states of the United Nations in response to the horrors of the Second World War, the Declaration is an excellent catalogue of the aspirations of humanity. The UDHR is not a binding legal instrument, but it is the inspiration for several subsequent treaties and conventions that do have binding effect, as well as the basis for many national laws that seek to promote and protect basic human rights.

A quick word of caution: don’t become dazzled by the United Nations or the regional human rights systems and mistakenly believe that you’re only a “real” human rights lawyer if you undertake high-profile cases or practice at the international level. While serving as a treaty body expert or judge on a transnational tribunal is unquestionably prestigious, it’s not the only way to be influential. Gandhi and Nelson Mandela are great examples of people who were trying to address specific injustices that were personal to them—but no one would question their broader credentials as “human rights lawyers.” What’s more, they were “human rights lawyers” before such language was widely in vogue. Don’t get caught up in the labels.

Are you concerned about children having free access to basic education? There are groups that need your help to ensure barriers aren’t imposed against ethnic minorities. Do you feel strongly about women’s rights? The domestic violence charity in your city would welcome your expertise in drafting restraining orders for abused women. Do you passionately identify with the #Occupy protests? There are NGOs which work exclusively to promote freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Are you fired up about efforts to marginalize certain groups on the basis of race or sexual orientation? Channel your anger into helping overturn these unjust laws. Are you—like Amal Clooney—multilingual? Then I guarantee there is a refugee or asylum organization in your state or province that could use your help explaining the legal system to newly arrived migrants. All of these are examples of “practicing” human rights law—helping vulnerable groups claim the legal protections they are entitled to.

A quick caveat: all of this assumes you aren’t in it for the money. I know – it’s a bummer. But it turns out that the people who most need your help are often the ones least able to pay for it. This is true even of high-profile defendants, including noted Amal Clooney client and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. While I profess no specific knowledge of his fee arrangements with his legal team, I do know some lawyers who work on his behalf pro-bono, because they believe the issues at stake in his case (freedom of information, the right to a fair trial) are vitally important.

I can already anticipate your objections: but I need to make a living! Of course you do. There are ball gowns to buy and yachts to be photographed on—being a human rights celebrity requires serious upkeep. Far be it from me to encourage you to a life of penury in the name of saving the world. But here’s the best part: while you are waiting for your future movie star spouse to notice your brilliance and subsidize your lifestyle, you can be a human rights lawyer in your spare time. So many human rights groups would welcome your involvement on a part-time or volunteer basis while you maintain your day job as a ruthless corporate raider. Do it for the karma. Do it to get your foot in the door. Do it to fulfill a deathbed promise to your great uncle. Your motivation doesn't really matter, so long as your commitment to your client is genuine.

If you are interested in becoming a full-time human rights lawyer and lucky enough to have a trust fund to support your more expensive habits, all the better. There are dozens of worthy organizations that would love to have you on staff. But whether full-time, part-time, or just occasional service in a volunteer capacity, the all-inclusive world of human rights needs your expertise and will value your engagement.

I’ll see you in Venice.


So You Want To Be a Human Rights Lawyer was first posted by Hilary Stauffer on LinkedIn on 23 October 2014. Republished with authorisation of the author.