Navigating through legal profession challenging for women –Uzokwe

By Bianca Iboma-Emefu 

Ify Uzokwe works with the Federal Ministry of Justice, at the Ministry of Defence, Lagos. A member of the International Federation of Women Lawyers, Nigeria, Lagos chapter, Uzokwe passionately advocates for women’s right while promoting the rights of vulnerable women, including children and girls through various platforms and organizations.

She recently celebrated her 50th birthday and donated food items to orphanages and widows in order to cushion the effects of present economic realities.

Uzokwe, in this a recent chat with Daily Sun, said navigating the legal profession is a challenging feat, especially for women. She also spoke on other issues.

How has the role of women changed from the past compared to the present?

In the past, women’s roles were predominantly confined to the private sphere. They were expected to prioritize family and household responsibilities, often with limited access to education, employment, and participation in public life.

Women are the epitome of strength, love, sacrifice and courage. The role of women in today’s world has changed significantly and for better. Women are now self- sufficient, well aware and financially independent. They have attained immense success in every field, whether it is sports, politics or academics.

What is the role of women in society today and what difference have they made?

Women are making a lot of differences around their environment and globally.They are challenging the status quo and working to create a more just and equitable society.

The future of women in society is very bright. Women are making progress in every area of ​​life and play an essential role in shaping the world. Women are leaders, entrepreneurs, activists, and change agents. They are the future.

What can be done to support young  women and girls to realize their potential?

We can help the next generation of women achieve their goals by sharing our knowledge and experience. We can also take time to understand and learn about the challenges they face. The more we know, the better equipped we are to advocate for positive change. We must denounce gender-based discrimination and violence. When we see something wrong, we must speak out against it. We need to invest in in women-led initiatives and cultivate the culture of entrepreneurship as that  can equally help create a more equitable economy.

Women play an important role in all aspects of society. They are caregivers, mothers, leaders, entrepreneurs, and activists. They are the pillars of the family and community. Women make significant contributions to the world and continue to break down barriers and achieve equality. We must all work together to create a world where women are valued, respected, and empowered.

Empowering women is essential to the health and social development of families, communities and countries. When women are living safe, fulfilled and productive lives, they can reach their full potential. In contributing their skills to the workforce, they raise happier and healthier children. Empowering women is essential to the health and social development of families, communities and countries. When women are living safe, fulfilled and productive lives, they can reach their full potential.

How vital is the role women play in society to their empowerment?

Women are the pillars of the family and community. Despite the challenges they face, women remain resilient and determined to create a better world for themselves and future generations. They work to promote gender equality, end violence against women, and create a more inclusive and equitable society.

They are responsible for raising children, taking care of elderly parents and other family members, and running the household. Women’s unpaid domestic work is essential to the functioning of society, but it is often undervalued and neglected. However, women still face discrimination in the workplace. They are paid less than men for the same work and are less likely to be promoted to management positions. Women are also more likely to experience sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.

Nigerian women consistently earn less than men in the legal profession, how do you bridge the gap?

Nigerian women in the legal profession earn on 15% less than their male counterparts. This pay gap is wider for women of colour, Black women facing the largest disparity in pay compared to their male colleagues. This discrepancy can be attributed to a number of factors, unconscious bias, lack of representation in leadership positions, and systemic barriers that prevent women from advancing in their careers.

 Women are often perceived as less than men in traditionally male-dominated fields such as law. This bias can result in women being passed over for promotions and pay raises, leading to lower overall earnings compared to their male colleagues.

Another factor that contributes to the wage gap in the legal profession in Nigeria is the lack of representation of women in leadership positions. Women make up a smaller percentage of partners and senior associates in law firms, which can limit their opportunities for career advancement and higher pay. Additionally, women in underdeveloped   society face additional barriers to advancement due to intersectional discrimination that can compound the effects of gender bias.

Also, addressing these disparities, it is important for organizations in the legal profession to actively work towards closing the gender wage gap through policies that promote pay equity, transparency in salary negotiations, and opportunities for career advancement for women.  Speaking about unconscious bias and creating a more inclusive work environment can also help to level the playing field for all women in the legal profession, regardless of race or ethnicity.

How would you describe the progress of females in the legal profession?

The number of female and male law school graduates has been almost equal for nearly a decade, yet the number of women remaining and advancing in the field does not reflect gender equality within the profession.

There are some hitches here and there that affect their climbing the ladder, but it gets better by the day.

What impacts have women in the legal profession made, what is their present state is in the industry and what lies ahead for them?

The legal profession has historically been male-dominated, with women facing numerous challenges and barriers to equality. However, significant progress has been made in recent years, with women making remarkable strides in the legal field. 

Women have truly impacted, but we still have to strive harder. 

This is why an organization like FIDA and other professional bodies are there for the advancement of female lawyers.

How can women be heard, seen and conquer in the legal profession, considering that it is a male-dominated career?

Navigating the legal profession is a challenging feat, especially for women. The distinct challenges that a female lawyer encounters while balancing her professional and personal life, basically seem impossible. This is part of what makes it look as if they are behind their male counterparts.  The legal landscape has traditionally been a playground for male lawyers. However, the wind of change is blowing as clients now encourage law firms to increase women’s roles within their teams.

What advice would you offer young women who aspire to reach the apex of their legal career, considering the distinct challenges for women?

Previously, women were underrepresented in leadership roles, including law firm partnerships, judiciary positions, and corporate legal departments, which hinders their advancement and influence within the profession.

Although, the journey of a female lawyer is an uphill climb, steeped in history and fraught with challenges, from balancing work-life responsibilities to facing gender discrimination, the path has never been easy.

Yet, these obstacles are surmountable with resilience and determination, women lawyers can overcome them. Gender inequality in pay remains a stark reality but it need to be addressed head-on by law firms worldwide. Women earn lesser despite having the same amount of work, the wage gap between a female and male legal practitioners need to be reviewed. To attain leadership position as a female in the legal profession , you need to break barriers and tackle the challenges of gender bias and stereotypes. Women often encounter bias and stereotypes that undermined their abilities, leading to unequal treatment and limited career opportunities.

And once they are empowered, it would bring the much-needed diversity and different perspectives to the profession, leading to better decision-making, innovation, and fairness, equal opportunities would be created for equal access to opportunities and career advancement, especially leadership roles, and professional development.

It’s all about determination and remaining focus. Now, we have some female lawyers who are SANs, Professors of Law; they are even much at the Judiciary (take Lagos State as a case study, I have appeared before more female judges than male).

So, it is all about knowing what you want and pursuing it. It is very possible to get there.

You recently turned 50. How do you feel?

Turning 50 can be a significant milestone for many women. Some may feel pressured to conform to societal expectations about aging, while others may feel empowered and liberated to embrace their wisdom and experience. Ultimately, how one feels about turning 50 is a personal experience and can vary greatly from individual to individual. It is important to remember that age is just a number and should not define a person’s worth or identity. Embracing one’s age and celebrating all the accomplishments and experiences that come with it can be a powerful and empowering mindset.

My 50th birthday celebration, has given me the opportunity to reach out to the less privileged. I was able to make some donations to impact on their lives especially to cushion the effects of the present economic crisis.

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