A Digest of IAWL’s International Women’s Day Symposium
On March 8, 2023, the Institute for African Women in Law (IAWL) joined in the global celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) themed #EmbraceEquity. The Institute, on March 9, 2023, organized its IWD 2023 edition of African Women in Law webinar on the theme: African Women in Law Rising: Embrace Equity.
The hour-long symposium celebrated women’s leadership in law and called on women’s organizations and associations to celebrate young women rising in leadership. In shining the spotlight on young women rising, the panel featured three African women rising in their respective legal spaces: Yorm Ama Abledu (Lecturer, University of Professional Studies, Ghana); Florida Kabasinga (Managing Partner of Certa Law, Rwanda) and Faith Mony Odhiambo (Vice President, LSK, Kenya). Linda Kasonde (Partner, LCK firm, Zambia) moderated the panel.
In case you missed the symposium and are yet to watch the full video on Youtube, this digest provides you with key highlights and useful nuggets from our panelists. Happy reading!
What IWD’s #EmbraceEquity means to women in the legal profession
Indeed this year’s IWD theme, Embrace Equity, brought to the fore the nuances between gender equality and gender equity, which many overlook. Essentially, gender equity is preferred because it recognizes the peculiarity of women and makes allowance for them in the work environment so that, ultimately, they end up being equal with men in their output. To Faith, embracing equity is “the realization that equality does not put us [women] on the same page and the same space” with men. She cited a personal experience of being told by her potential employers after an interview for a job that because she was single, it meant that “if we hire you, soon you will be going on maternity leave”. Her potential employers had, by their statement, placed her at par (equality) with the other male applicants without paying attention to her unique circumstances as a woman (equity), which could work to her disadvantage. So, embracing equity, according to Faith, is celebrating the women who have raised the bar despite their multiple social identities.
Florida added that embracing equity is women supporting each other to go into those spaces where women would ordinarily not be allowed. She comes to this conclusion after her own experiences with bias that made her realize that contrary to her initial belief, there is indeed a gender equity problem that needs to be tackled.
Yorm finds the theme apt, being a product of women who have gone before her to pave the way and attempt to champion equity. To her, this year’s IWD is a personal celebration and a call for men and women in the legal industry to strive for equity.
The contribution of mentorship in the rise of women
As the second African woman and first Ghanaian female lawyer to win the 2022 Outstanding Young Lawyer by the International Bar Association (IBA), Yorm touched on how mentorship contributed to her rise in the legal profession and eventually her international recognition. According to her, the efforts of a number of mentors have contributed to her success. However, she mentioned the notable contribution of a particular mentor, the late Bentsi-Enchill, at her first law firm, who would regularly meet with her on Sundays to take updates on her career progress. Yorm’s named mentor, being a man, speaks to the fact that women seeking mentorship should not limit themselves to female seniors only, as men can also be great mentors for women in law. IAWL’s male allies’ agenda is, therefore, a step in the right direction.
Sharing her views on the best mentorship approach, whether it should be organic or structured, Yorm emphasized that regardless of the form it takes, “the mentee plays a vital role” in driving the mentorship relationship. Mentees shouldn’t wait to be mentored but seek mentors and build relationships over time.
Florida, who has set up a law firm and a foundation, also said providing “a space for mentorship” is one of the primary strategies she employs in empowering other women. At her firm and foundation, junior lawyers and interns are assigned to seniors to guide them, advice on trends and career options are given, weekly two-hour mentoring sessions are held on Fridays, and networking skills are also taught. She recommends that for women in law to steadily rise, mentorship programs should be organized in all parts of Africa’s legal sector.
If you are looking to be a mentor or be mentored as a woman in law, you can sign up for any of IAWL’s global legal networks here to kick-start your journey.
The future of women in the legal profession
With more women enrolling in law programs across the continent, Faith was of the view that the future of women in the legal profession is bright and promising. With the activism of the Law Society of Kenya in addressing sexual harassment and other gender bias issues, women in the legal profession are becoming more confident and bolder. She referenced the example of a young lawyer in Kenya who single-handedly conducted a survey and published the findings to highlight the issues facing women in the various law firms, which resulted in a friendly work environment for all. Overall, more women are rising in the various legal and judicial sectors and breaking barriers.
The future of women in the legal profession also means embracing emerging social media platforms, Yorm pointed out. She advised young female lawyers to capitalize on LinkedIn to grow their professional presence, build their networks and access opportunities.
General words of advice for young female lawyers
In advising rising female lawyers, Florida had five tips: first, “get a mentor” because good mentors help to push you higher. Not forgetting that once you’re mentored, you should also mentor others. Second, have passion for whatever you do because it is crucial to rising as a woman. Third, put yourself out there, and try out opportunities, including those you find challenging and do not stay in your comfort zone. Fourth, “be purposeful in building your brand” because law firms are businesses that must be grown, and also take professional courses necessary for building that brand. Finally, always reach out if you need help, do not drown or be ashamed because your mental well-being is important.
Faith, who has over 20 years of legal practice experience, rehashed Florida’s tip on not being satisfied with one’s comfort zone because she has always been “looking for a new challenge”. She has pivoted into diverse sectors over the score and counting years she has been practicing. Planning has also been key to her career success. Since multi-tasking comes naturally to women, planning is the way to go. Finally, she said, “don’t be apologetic for being ambitious”.
Yorm called on all female lawyers to be ambitious because “success has no gender” and you are capable.
The symposium ended with these final words from our panelists. Yorm encouraged young lawyers to be ambitious and to “be excellent at what you do and keep learning”. Faith added that young female lawyers should be humble because “you can only learn when you’re more humble and are able to listen”. She added, read “widely and wildly”. Keep your values and morals because at the end of the day you need to answer to yourself. Finally, she said to do pro-bono work for the experience it brings. Florida admonished young lawyers to believe in themselves, without which they can’t progress because “you will be your worst enemy thinking that you will not get there”. Look around and lift up other women; send opportunities and support each other.
Our moderator, Linda, summed up the conversation with the following key takeaways: (a) be deliberate about what you do and what you want, (b) find a mentor or sponsor to help you along your journey, (c) reach out to those you admire and who are succeeding, (d) give back to other women and lift other women as you go on your journey, (e) put yourself out there through platforms such as LinkedIn, (f) be ambitious and don’t be apologetic, and (g) believe in yourself even when others don’t.
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