AMANDLA! WOMEN TO WATCH EDITION
Yusra Suedi, Ph.D.
Public International Law, University of Geneva.
Why did you decide to study law?
My initial choice for law was arbitrary and based on deduction as opposed to a calling or an intentional decision. Navigating the packed program of undergraduate classes ranging from administrative to tax and divorce law, my jaded teen self quickly regretted my choice of study and sincerely questioned what the purpose of the law even was. It was only when I took my first Public International Law course that I realized that to me, the law exists to serve a purpose greater than ourselves, to resolve global issues and to advance social justice. In that moment, my law journey began.
What is your proudest professional moment thus far?
Submitting my PhD manuscript. The task of wrestling years’ worth of infinite words and ideas into submission – against the background of life’s quotidian adversities – was arduous. Completing it was a testament to my willpower and fueled me with the belief that I could overcome any challenge.
Looking back, what is one decision/action you would have done differently?
I would have spoken up in moments where I felt disrespected. I occasionally let certain offenses slip under the radar for fear of “causing a scene” or making anyone uncomfortable. I now know that discomfort is at the crux of any positive change.
Share some major professional challenges you have faced, or continue to face as a woman in law.
As an academic in Public International Law, I often witness daily disproportionality in female representation holding senior positions in my field. At the United Nations International Law Commission, where I worked for five years, two out of thirty-four members were women, increased to three in 2018. At the International Court of Justice, where I also worked, only three of fifteen judges are currently female. The dominance of men on expert panels at certain academic conferences has also been noted. It can be difficult to feel a sense of belonging in an industry in which so few people who look like me are authoritative figures. We may feel more inspired, empowered or driven to achieve greatness when others of a similar background, profile or appearance have reached the mountain top before us. Without this precedent, the imposter syndrome can claim us as its victims.
What are some practical strategies for survival in the legal profession?
Decide to believe that you are deserving of a seat at the table no matter what your industry looks like. Work hard and always strive for excellence. Do not be afraid to be a trailblazer – many of us will have to be in one way or another. Mentor younger women – they need the moral support on the days where they feel like the black in the ivory, or the pink dress in a sea of dark suits. Lastly, support other women – there is enough space at the table for all of us.