It was difficult to ignore the roaring gunfire outside her classroom and focus on the lesson at hand, but that didn’t stop Humaira from realising her dream of becoming the first woman to become a practicing lawyer in Swat.
Back when she was studying, education for women was banned by the oppressive Taliban who controlled the area, but Humaira never skipped class. Even when “security forces were battling it out with militants outside.”
Now 28, Humaira started her practice in 2010. Since then only three other women have joined her in the legal ‘fraternity’, even though more than 100 of them are qualified to practice. The running assumption is that the women feel restricted by cultural expectations.
Humaira was no stranger to stereotyping and had to battle her way through the initial stages of her career.
“When I started practicing, some of the men remarked women could not become lawyers, but I proved we can do it even better than them,” says Humaira with pride. “I was hesitant—there were no other women at court. However, my seniors helped me through the initial phase and I was able to adjust.” She now hopes more women will join the field.
You’ve come a long way
Humaira has come a long way since starting her career and now walks shoulder-to-shoulder with the men of her field. She is a member of the Swat Bar Association and fights cases in both the district and high courts of Swat. Apart from her regular practice, she is also a human rights volunteer and an adviser in a UNDP legal aid programme in Swat.
Her dream of becoming a lawyer was shared by her mother and the whole family played a pivotal role in pushing her towards her goal.
She did her Bachelors of Law (LLB) from the co-educational institute Muslim Law College. “Initially, it was difficult to study with men but again, it was all about adjusting,” she tells The Express Tribune.
For Humaira, the most rewarding experience is dealing with women’s cases. It was these that piqued her interest in learning more about the issues faced by them.
However, the versatile attorney has a diverse portfolio. Humaira handles all manner of cases and is swamped with work. “People have trust in me and come with their cases. Though most of them are related to family matters, I have taken on many civil and criminal cases successfully.”
A place where dreams are born
One of the main reasons Humaira wants to see more lawyers like herself is because she believes clients who are women are hesitant to hire attorneys who are men.
“Many women share their personal problems with me openly and then I fight their cases. My clients are very happy and satisfied,” she says.
The lawyer is willing to guide any woman seeking a career in the legal profession and help her navigate through difficult challenges the way she has.
Swat is a place where thousands of girls dream of careers—especially after Malala Yousafzai setting a remarkable precedent. But few of these girls feel they can realise their dreams like Humaira has.
Even though there are only four qualified lawyers who are woman, Humaira believes the legal fraternity is beginning to warm to the idea of women lawyers. She and her colleagues are trying to overcome the hurdles of stopping women from pursuing careers, whether they are in the legal profession or otherwise.
Having it all
Speaking about her own practice, Humaira looks fondly upon the time she spends at the high court. “Even the judges welcome us and treat us with respect during proceedings,” she says, adding it has been a great learning experience.
As with most successful career women, she has to perform a balancing act between her professional and personal life, but manages it rather well. “I make enough time for my family and friends daily,” she says.
If her future goals are anything to go by, Humaira will remain an inspiration for some time to come—not just for women, but society as a whole.
“I want to become a trusted lawyer, serve the community and earn respect in the field,” says Humaira.
“I will show the world a woman can be successful in a male-dominated society,” she asserts.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 27th, 2014.