AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION

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Amel Arfaoui

Justice and Human Rights Program Coordinator, UNDP

Why did you decide to study law?

Since my early childhood, I already knew that I wanted to become a person who would make impactful contributions and change lives. I remember that time, when at school, my teacher asked the class to take a sheet and write what our goal in life was. I simply wrote « justice for all » and since then I chose to follow my dream.

What is your proudest professional moment thus far?

I have many proud moments. My first proud moment was becoming a lawyer. It was not only the prestige granted by this position that made me proud. It was rather the pleasure I felt to help people. A couple of years later, I brilliantly passed a national examination and became a judge. That also made me very proud. Then, when I joined the UN to work closely on projects that target reinforcing justice and Human rights including gender equality, I felt closer to my childhood dream, and that also filled me at once with excitement and pride.

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Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?

Although there have been difficult chapters in my professional life, I have accepted them as lessons. And for that, I do not regret any of the choices I have made in my career as they have made me the woman I am today.

Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.

When I was little, I dreamed as much of being a judge as founding a family. My parents raised me to have such dreams and, even more, to make them come true. I had the chance to study in a field that fascinated me, to travel to learn more. I rarely felt that the doors were closed to me because I was a woman. Equality is a basic value and principle my parents endeavored to inculcate in my sisters and me almost from the cradle. When I grew up, I never felt inferior to men and I also came to realize that I was lucky and that my parents were exceptional. Other girls in my country, and quite surprisingly elsewhere in the world, were less lucky.

Since women who specialize and succeed in the field of law are particularly aware of their rights, they are more likely than others to be fierce and courageous. Many men, on the other hand, still get intimidated by the strength, courage and determination any strong woman reveals, and this is challenging for me! Over the years I have consistently invested in myself and learnt that I have to overcome any situation that faces me, inspired by the words of the Tunisian poet Abu el kacim el chebbi: “ He who has an aversion to climbing mountains, will pass his days and nights in ditches and holes”.

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What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?

First of all, it is important to have your own vision that you turn into a clear set of objectives along with a practical plan. Sometimes things do not go as you imagined or how you planned. That is why you have to learn to re-strategize rather than run away. Rejection and failure should never make you doubt your own worth. You need to see failure and rejection as an incentive to perform better. Just keep developing yourself by learning and having trainings in areas that you love! Acknowledge the skills you do not have and build them! Do not listen to negative voices! be surrounded by people who support and encourage you! It is important to keep Networking and to take up opportunities as they are presented to you.
And finally, be ready to provide guidance and support to help others to access opportunities as well.