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Women at Work in the Justice System: “They don’t trust my words..."

Updated: May 14, 2020

By Marybeth Bognar, Program Officer

As part of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, women around the world organized to demand accountability and change. This year’s theme centered on women in the world of work on the heels of new global standards and movements like #MeToo and Time's Up.

Violence, discrimination, and traditional gender norms continue to be barriers both for women who work in the criminal justice system and women who come in contact with the law.

In many of the countries where we work, the women on our team are challenging gender norms by pursuing professional careers in a male-dominated field. As a result, they often face discrimination from clients who would “prefer a male lawyer” and are still expected to be the primary caretakers of their families and homes.

Hear from Sashi Basnet, about the challenges she faces as a criminal defense lawyer in Nepal:

Working the Second Shift

The world of work includes not only the office but also work-related spaces encountered during a person’s commute or client visits. It is also important to recognize the home, where women are disproportionately responsible for unpaid care work. After commuting long distances, interviewing witnesses, defending clients in court, and more, many women on our team head home to their “second shift”-- caring for their families. This work often goes unseen and undervalued.

Senior defense lawyer, Bimala Yadav invited us to her home in Kathmandu to show us her nightly routine which, similar to many women around the world, includes preparing dinner, caring for her mother-in-law, helping her kids with homework, and cleaning up after the day.

Bimala prepares a pre-dinner cup of tea for her husband.
With help from her daughter, a university student, Bimala readies dinner for her family. Each night, she prepares several classic Nepali dishes. Tonight she is serving lentils, pumpkin, gundruk, and rice.
Bimala's mother-in-law spends much of her day at home while the kids are at school and Bimala and her husband are at work. In the evening, it's importnat to Bimala to spend some quality time together.
Before dinner, Bimala checks her young son's homework.
Over dinner, the family shares stories and news from the day.
Bimala prepares a special plate for her mother-in-law who prefers to eat in the comfort of her living room chair.
Bimala takes some quiet time to herself to pray.
After dinner, Bimala makes sure her son is getting ready for bed, then finishes cleaning up the kitchen.

Representation Matters

In Nepal, where both of these ILF team members live, of the 394 judges at the supreme, high and district court level, only 14 are women--and Nepal is not alone in this inequity. Around the world, it remains tough for women to enter traditionally male-dominated spaces and challenge the gender stereotypes that are used to excuse sexual harassment and limit opportunities for advancement. Women in the justice sector -- and in every profession-- must be able to conduct their work free from discrimination, harassment, and violence to realize their full potential.

A safe and positive work environment benefits all of society--not just women.

Diversity and inclusion in the justice sector, especially among leadership, is critical. It ensures that we benefit from varying experiences and talents, and reinforces the values of fairness and equality that are core to the rule of law. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers points out, “Whom we see representing us in court matters.” When there is greater diversity in leadership, there is greater access to justice for everyone.

Our Women in Leadership and Law (WiLL) program is dedicated to training the next generation of women criminal defense lawyers. You can read more about it here.


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