When I was child, I admired my uncle, who was a lawyer and I wanted to be like him. He was always well dressed in a suit or something else that was classy. The word “lawyer” sounded exotic, important and seemed to refer to a person that was much admired and respected. Thus, at my age, 32, I still want to be a lawyer.
Born in Jinja town in Eastern Uganda, I always strove to excel in my studies because I had a dream to one day become a lawyer. At Nabisunsa Girls’ School where I sat for my UACE( Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education) in 1999, I was the overall best student and this ensured that I would study law at Makerere University on a scholarship. The day I learned about the outcome of the examinations, I thought, “I will be a lawyer just like Uncle”; and since then I have embarked on the long journey to becoming a lawyer.
My typical day starts at 5.30am when I wake up to ensure that I make it to my office in time, before the long traffic jams of Kampala city get so unbearable. I work in a Law Firm where all the three partners, including myself, are female!
How important is it?
To be a female lawyer in Uganda is something to be proud of because women lawyers are considered to be achievers in general, first because the road to being a lawyer is not easy and secondly, surviving in the practice of Law is challenging. Traditionally, Uganda has a chauvinistic society whereby gender stereotypes still exist; hence, a female lawyer is a testimony against the gender stereotypes.
As a lawyer, I am proud to be in a law firm with only other females because together, we feel more empowered and it boosts our confidence. However, I endeavor to remain realistic, down-to-earth and gear myself towards being an inspirational woman or role model for other female lawyers or younger girls who may be interested in becoming lawyers in the future. Just as I was inspired by my uncle, I would like to be a source of inspiration to others.
I have been in the rural areas numerous times and especially in Jinja, where I was born. In Jinja and in other places, I have associated and interacted with women of different classes and back grounds and I have got the impression, or rather, come to the conclusion that most women generally appreciate the achievement of a female lawyer. They feel that you are their representative and are assured that when they need legal representation or guidance, then they can come to you and they will get all the assistance they need.
Does my position help others?
I use my position and experience to educate and advise younger girls about the law because “knowledge is power”. I believe that if I empower other women with the knowledge I possess, I will be building the nation and helping women to understand how they can help themselves in various circumstances. I aim to be a voice.
During my sessions with clients, I have, through experience realized that sometimes people go to lawyers because they need general advice and counseling and not because they really do have legal problems that cannot be solved through alternative means. Much as we need to make a living, I sometimes feel deep compassion for the people and then wonder and ask myself, “am I in the right profession?”
What are the challenges?
My father told me that there is no easy road, and therefore nothing comes easy. The studies are not easy at all but with hard work, any one can make it. As women, we still face the challenges of living in a chauvinistic society whereby a female lawyer faces, say, the challenge of a male colleague trying to “bully” her, or a male client confronting you with his doubts about your ability to adequately represent him because you are a woman. However, one has to be strong, to persevere, and stand up for oneself in order to succeed.
My conclusion is that being a female lawyer is good, desirable and admirable. It does not matter how hard it may appear to be in order to achieve. I would encourage girls who want to become lawyers not to be afraid of the length and hardships of the studies but to stand and fight to achieve what they desire for their future. For female lawyers, in my country, and Africa, I say, “the struggle continues”.
Rehemah Mujoma, Ugandan lawyer.