Women in Leadership: Dr. Sadaf Aziz, Dean, SAHSOL
Dr. Sadaf Aziz has been appointed Dean of the Shaikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law at LUMS; making her the first female dean in the University’s history. Dr. Aziz was one of the School’s founding faculty members who helped launch the BA-LL.B programme. She has completed her PhD in Law from the University of Melbourne and her research interests lie in the areas of legal and political theory and the comparative and historical study of legal regimes in the subcontinent. She is also the author of The Constitution of Pakistan; A Contextual Analysis; a book on Pakistan’s constitutional laws and history.
We sat down with Dr. Aziz to talk about her experiences as an academic, lawyer and a woman at a leadership position at LUMS.
What was it about legal education that attracted you instead of pursuing a traditional practitioner career?
I veered between making a decision about whether to have a practitioners career or be a legal academic for a very short period of time, in the years that I was studying law. But by the end of my degree I was pretty intent on having a career as a legal academic as opposed to a practitioner. Having said that, over the years I have attempted to stay in close contact particularly with human rights practitioners and engaged in advocacy campaigns on specific issues that I am deeply concerned about.
Tell us about your experience as the first female in a senior leadership role at the Law School.
For me, as well as female faculty members and others at SAHSOL, just sheer representation at levels of institutional governance impacts how people perceive their own sense of inclusion in an institution. What kinds of interests will be voiced, what types of concerns will be brought to the front? I do believe that those kinds of concerns and considerations are more readily brought out into the open when you see female leadership within institutions. If can be an interlocutor or supportive player for those things, then I am happy that I can do that. Nonetheless, when we see women in leadership positions, it is also important to look backwards and account for why women did not rise to those positions earlier and often the answer will simply be that they were passed over and that was easier done because the qualities that women bring to leadership roles were simply not valued sufficiently.
How have you found the experience of working with NGOs and government functionaries different from working in a leadership position at a university?
There are, in many ways, stark differences. Particularly in governmental settings, much more explicit biases are operating and women often are not even spoken to even when they bring expertise, seniority and experience to the table.
On the other hand, the levels of education and human resources at LUMS are pretty unparalleled in Pakistan. This comes with sensitization and more explicit affirmation of gender equality. However, the unconscious biases that people have, make them act out in very strong ways. Even though these unconscious biases may have years and years of deconditioning, the tendency to undermine, to dismiss and to diminish females is still there. LUMS has not done nearly enough to counteract that or provide mechanisms for understanding and addressing the grievances of those who might persistently be subject to such behaviour.
Any advice you would give young women starting their careers in law.
I think women should take up as much space as they can. This is really important, because what they have to fight against is people putting them in corners. Women have to be each other’s allies in those ways and they have to be able to talk to each other. What we can do for each other is be honest about the fact that there is a cost which is extracted of women, and to be supportive of each other. It is also important to remind each other that nothing is insurmountable.
How important is it to have qualified, female lawyers for the Pakistani society?
It is incredibly important for women to be in the legal profession to foster practices that support women staying in the profession, and not having to drop out. We should see them moving up through the ranks in firms, in greater number of appointments to the bench, and in all sorts of leadership positions.
For many years it has been said that law is not a respectable field for women to be engaged in because they have to deal with all sorts of undesirable social characters, or they have to rub shoulders with men. But of course, these are just the kinds of concerns that suggest that women have a lesser stake in what happens in a public sphere and they can let men handle it for them.