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Elizabeth Bakibinga-Gaswaga

Legal Adviser-Rule of Law, Commonwealth Secretariat, UK.

Why did you decide to study law?

I am an avid reader and as a child, I was concerned about and disturbed by injustice, unfairness and deception depicted in books and later films and TV shows. Things came to a climax when aged 9, I read the abridged version of William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Portia’s impersonation of Bellario, the Doctor of Laws to save Antonio left an indelible mark on me and I resolved to become a Doctor of Laws. I describe myself as a rule of law systems architect who seeks to design interventions against the injustice and unfairness in society.

What is your proudest professional moment thus far?

My proudest professional moment was being in a position to shape national, regional or global rule of law policy and at times avert crises. I have been honoured to positively and directly influence the lives of people as a UN peacekeeper, something that few public international lawyers have experienced.

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

Looking back, there is no significant professional decision/action I would have taken/done differently, because I endeavour to understand the environment within which I am operating, including the mandate and the resources that I have available. Anything I would have done differently would be captured during project monitoring and evaluation.

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

The major professional challenges I have faced have resulted from environmental factors that affect people generally and women in society. I have practiced law in political settings, in a national legislature, United Nations peacekeeping missions and now at the Commonwealth Secretariat. This implies that I work on a range of subjects and amongst a diversity of people. Unconscious bias is a challenge I have faced, which always requires me to keep an eye on the socio-cultural dynamics of situations, especially when I have been the only woman in the room. Additional preparations that I have had to make for professional engagements, as a woman in law, have included appropriateness of dress code, establishing cultural protocols and a ensuring that I have a personal safety and security plan. Knowing the territory and drawing lessons from experiences helps me to navigate the challenges. Institutional policy measures on respect for diversity help too.

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

Vulnerability factors that affect other women will not spare a professional woman and it is therefore important to seek out interventions that are available in a given society. This entails opportunities for child care, mental wellness and redress in the justice system. Self-management including, achieving work-life balance, the maintenance of a dependable support system and knowing oneself helps. Also, one has to appreciate and manage the encumbrances placed by society (cultural norms) in order to thrive. Commitment to lifelong learning, continuous improvement (Kaizen) and development of an additional skillset outside the traditional array of soft and hard skills makes one a more well-rounded asset. Developing and maintaining networks, including mentors and role models as well as membership of professional associations is beneficial. So is helping empower others to lead as I do in Project Girls for Girls.

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