'My main challenge is being myself in such a patriarchal society': The challenges of being a female law student
Jennifer Onwuzulike is a 19 year old Law student at Nottingham Trent University. She was born in Nigeria and moved to the UK with her mother when she was 5 years old. To celebrate Women’s History Month our Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Dee Sekar, spoke to Jennifer about her hopes and aspirations of being a lawyer and starting her professional career.
What are your main challenges on a professional level?
My main challenge is being myself in such a patriarchal society. I am by nature a driven woman, and that sometimes can lead to me being quite assertive. In those instances, I find myself having to try and curtail my assertion to some extent, due to my uneasiness with being labelled a feminist.
This is because in our society, if you are an assertive woman, you are automatically labelled a feminist (of which from a patriarchal perspective is apparently not a good thing), but if you are an assertive man, then that is applauded as a positive trait (such irony).
What are your biggest concerns about having a legal career?
My biggest concerns about having a legal career is its compatibility with my desire of starting a family.
What excites you the most about the legal profession?
What excites me the most about the legal profession is advocacy. I love living for a purpose: knowing that someone’s fate depends on my understanding and ability…that thought excites me.
Do you feel the legal profession is inclusive?
I am yet to penetrate the legal profession; therefore, I am not exactly the most qualified person to make such conclusions. However, from the little work experience I have done, I do not see much diversity.
What support do you feel younger women need from their schools/universities to tackle stereotypes around gender?
In all honesty, I have no clue. The problem really is not a matter of how much support or what not, I think it is more of people’s mentality. I could for example propose for more motivational workshops to be delivered to students, but, really, what difference would that make if their mentality is already sculpted?
The construction of our mentality is dependent on our surroundings. If I do not see much young Nigerian female Barristers in this country, that will shape my mentality into thinking that, that pathway is not accessible for me; therefore, my school/university can do everything to support me, but that hesitation will always be at the back of my mind: ‘this is not for you’.
So, the burden to reverse the gender stereotypes (in my opinion) is not upon schools/universities, but upon the commercial world, to employ more women in top roles.
Who is your role model and why?
I do not have a role model. I strive to be the best I can be, and no one else.
Are you concerned about our political landscape post-Brexit and Trump and how that will affect the advancement of women?
I am very appalled with our political landscape. Rather than moving forward we are moving backwards; it is disgraceful.However, I do not really think that it will stump the advancement of women per se, well, not as much as to world trade and peace.
Nonetheless, it would definitely not be a catalyst to women empowerment, because with such disarray, women empowerment is the least on the agenda, especially when we do not even know what Brexit means!