Mar 08, 2017
Two Hamilton women are part of a growing campaign to spread the message about why law needs feminism. Current law school students Romita Sur and Zaynab Al-Waadh are involved with a national initiative – #LawNeedsFeminismBecause – meant to incite discussion and help reshape the legal profession. Sur, 24, and Al-Waadh, 23, spoke with The Spectator about the idea behind the campaign and how their experiences in Hamilton impact the work they do now.
Sur: In 2014, a McGill law alumna created a project called "I'm a feminist and ..." It was launched by the McGill Feminist Collective of the law school. In September 2015, we had a team meeting for the feminist collective. We wanted to do another photo campaign, but something with a little bit more substance and something we felt was more needed. The hashtag we adopted was #LawNeedsFeminismBecause. We got about 33 students to join in on the campaign to write why they think law needs feminism. Students wrote from a whole range of issues regarding intersectionality within the law, looking at how law impacts people from different identities whether race, sexual orientation, gender and class. And then around May, we were reached out to by University of Ottawa law school asking us how they would do their own photo campaign. Once Ottawa signed on, other law schools from across the country also wanted to sign on. Speaking with the folks at Ottawa as well as McGill, we were like 'what is something we can do to really bring this country together?' There were three things. First is doing a national social media campaign. The second part was to gather stories on people's quotes. The third part is this national forum or conference coming up on March 11.
What is the goal of the project?
Al-Waadh: Over the past, now, almost three years that this project has existed for, it's slowly kind of morphed into becoming a platform for students, legal academics and professionals to identify and put out there on a national scale the issues that face the legal profession today in terms of issues that women and minorities face. For us, we're all students, so how can we as future legal professionals move forward in shaping our career and the legal profession as a whole?
When we look at issues of representation with regard to women or minorities, when the legal profession is representative of the people who are actually in law schools or are graduating from law schools, that in turn shapes the way in which the law is practised and it's shaped by these people's past experiences and their past viewpoints. CBC had an article earlier this year about (how) a lot of women go into criminal law but not a lot of women go into criminal defence. That results in methods being used, for example, like whacking the complainant during criminal trials, especially with regard to sexual assault trials. The idea is that if criminal defence really reflected the diversity of people who are entering and exiting law schools, perhaps the ways in which defence lawyers or Crown attorneys examine or cross-examine witnesses would be different.
What is the response you've been receiving to this project?
Sur:A lot of students in law schools across the country have been tweeting about why law needs feminism. University deans have been quite supportive of the project. The reception in general has been great, but we really need a lot of people to come on board.
Sur: First of all, we hope that this national forum becomes an annual conference held at a difference school every year. There's so many issues that students want to work on, and that forum gives us a platform for students from across the country to come together to brainstorm the future for this project.
How did your experiences in Hamilton impact the work you do now?
Al-Waadh: I think we came out of a really, really great program – the social work program at McMaster.I started getting into advocacy-related work after my second year. I did a placement at a centre called the Women's Centre of Hamilton, with Jared's Place. I was in theirlegal advocacy centre. You're working very intimately with women who are leaving domestic violence situations within a legal context. So you're helping them fill out court forms, you're attending court with them, you're attending lawyer meetings with them.For me that was the very first experience where I was directly engaging with vulnerable people within a legal sphere.
Sur: I worked at Jared's Place. One of the counsellors there, I used to always tell her that "I'm worried, how am I going to be in this profession? There's not that many people that look like me." She said "sometimes you need to be the first and just get out there." It was through their influence that I decided to apply to law school.
What is the main message you hope people get through this campaign?
Al-Waadh: I think that this campaign has a genuine potential to elevate marginalized voices on a national scale. We're a generation of future legal professionals who will really have both the tools and the stamina to transform our legal institutions and the practice of law in order to be more accommodating, to be more accessible, to be more reflective of the society that we live in. The point isn't necessarily to try to gain a seat at the table; the point is to try to reconceptualize what this table can look like, what our institutions can look like.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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