AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION
Osai Justina Ojigho
Country Director, Amnesty International, Nigeria.
Why did you decide to study law?
I decided to study law to help people. My motivation came from a school career day when a well-spoken lady spoke about her work. She was a lawyer. I admired her so much, her confidence and the way she made her presentation. I decided then that I would love to be a lawyer. Many of the things she said you needed to study law were things I enjoyed doing, such as reading. I also found the study of law fascinating, the courtroom drama, the oratory of closing speeches and the wisdom of solving cases based on facts, logic and justice.
What is your proudest professional moment thus far?
When we got judgment in the Dorothy Njemanze v Nigeria case at the ECOWAS Court. It took two funding proposals, four years and a belief that we would get justice. The case is a rallying point for challenging gender-based violence using the Maputo Protocol.
Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?
One action I would have taken is to do my PhD. I had three opportunities that I did not pursue because of time, funding and childcare. With hindsight, I could have managed it if I had asked for more help. I hope to still achieve that.
Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.
Most of the challenges comes from a position of assertiveness and expectations. As a woman, I believe many of my colleagues in the profession and at work have certain expectations which are formed from cultural and religious upbringing. I find that sometimes, I have to constantly assert my position to be heard and to be taken seriously as an expert in my field. I have a natural disposition to be gentle and some take this as weakness so when I act in a firm way, my intentions are misunderstood and I have been labelled negatively as being aggressive, stubborn or difficult. As a professional woman, I believe there is a lot of expectations to be excellent in all areas of life and many times one is judged harshly if one area (usually family life) is not doing so well. Managing my health, work and family is also a balancing act.
What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?
The legal profession is still quite sexist. In Nigeria, for example, some still refer to women as 'brothers' and say that "there are no women in the bar". So women lawyers need to be confident in their abilities and exhibit their femininity in ways they feel comfortable with. I work in the development sector and as a leader, I am accountable to delivering the organisation's goals for our beneficiaries. There is a lot of demand on your time and if not careful, you blur the line between work and personal life. One way, I manage this is to have a set time where I disengage from work physically and mentally. I have a circle of trusted friends who are leaders and we support each other with advice and to network. I also create time to exercise and take care of my well-being.