Amandla! Woman to Watch
Omnia Taher Gadalla
Assistant Lecturer in the Faculty of Law and Shari'a- Al-Azhar University, Cairo Founder of Her Honor Setting The Bar Initiative
Reading the biographies of influential people like Ghandi, Abbday, O'connor, Mandela, and Ginsburg inspired me and I was impressed by the impact of studying law on those characters and how it empowers them to take the lead and enriches their mentality. I believed that it informed them of how things work and change, how they absorbed the spirit of the law and justice and devoted their lives to the noble ideas they had no matter what risks they encountered their way. I also belong to a big family where most of its members studied law and work in different legal fields. I used to hear their discussions and different views and it was very interesting and I was curious to know more and asked many questions.
When I was appointed in the academia and became sure that I will teach law and my message will be delivered to empower young female students who belong to socially or financially disadvantaged class and are restricted even in their dreams by misconceptions and stereotypes in a male-dominated community.
I would have eliminated my options instead of working on different plans in parallel to guarantee most of my options in case anything changed. Further, I should have been more focused on preparing myself and boost my potentials to start my post-graduate studies abroad after graduation.
I have encountered "for males only" statements many times. Most importantly, it happened after graduation, when I was prevented from applying to the judiciary due to my gender, like all other Egyptian female law graduates. I refused to remain silent and decided to start "Her Honor Setting The Bar" Initiative in 2014 to combat this historic flagrant discriminatory banning.
I was also told that "Being a female lowers your chances to work as a junior associate/lawyer in law firms. You can't stay up late. You will get married, have kids, and take maternity and child care leave….etc". Being veiled was another obstacle for working in some of the top law firms and multinational companies in Egypt.
Stay determined and don't let a day pass by without investing in yourself and add to your knowledge. Law is ever-changing science and it interacts with other sciences that affect the law in return. It is also a comparative science and makes you learn from other country's experiences. Being updated and aware of what's going on will make you knowledgeable, confident, distinguished and empower you for higher positions/advanced steps. Further, increase your network. It will allow you to share and benefit from exchanging experiences from different practitioners in different legal systems that widen your horizon and produce opportunities.
For women in particular, don't let people decide for you what you are able to do and what you are not. Believe in yourself and close/block your ears from those who underestimate women's capabilities and trapped in stereotypes. Take the opportunity, go for the exposure, explore your potential, and prove them wrong. Along the way, love yourself as a woman, be aware of the extra challenges you encounter, and accept yourself in all your ups and downs.