“You want women to have role models”

Lina Zettergren is a Judge Referee at the Supreme Court in her native country, Sweden. She joined EUPOL COPPS as a Senior Criminal Justice Expert in October last year. In her role in Ramallah, she is involved in a number of projects designed to support changes in the Palestinian criminal justice system, including issues related to fair trials, witness protection, anti-corruption and access to justice. But if you ask her to name a project especially close to her heart, she will immediately start talking about her work on mentoring and empowering female lawyers.

“Coming from a country like Sweden, where gender related issues have been debated for a long time now and has a feminist foreign policy, I find it important to empower women everywhere. The idea is for women to find role models and increase their own influence in their professions,” Zettergren says.

Elaborating on why she considers this important, she states, “Greater female empowerment is expected to have a positive influence on issues such as access to justice. Studies have shown that greater women’s participation in the justice system can increase the number of women that seek justice, just to name one positive outcome”.

As part of this work, she and her team are advising and supporting the Palestinian Bar Association (PBA) on creating a network for female lawyers. This network will coordinate and share information on issues of relevance to them. “The network the PBA is establishing is the first female network of lawyers in Palestine,” Zettergren explains.

The Swedish expert is keen to stress that the network is not just to talk about ‘women’s issues’. “Questions like family law or gender-based violence are indeed highly important but have traditionally been considered questions for women. They are in fact questions for everyone. This professional network is open for all questions which women encounter in their profession in order to make way for them to occupy the same professional space as men. For example, being assigned the same cases, paid the same salary for the same work and holding management positions to the same extent as men”.  

Zettergren emphasises the value of having managers who push for change. She thanks the Head of the PBA, Mr Jawad Obeidat as well as Ms Mai Attalah, EUPOL COPPS’ focal point at the PBA, for their efforts to promote gender equality. “Women make up 30 % of all active lawyers in Palestine. We therefore advise to have at least three women on the board of the PBA. Mr Jawad Obeidat has been very encouraging and supportive of our joint efforts. Fair representation will help to motivate young female lawyers to advance in their careers and will benefit the judicial sector overall”.

Encouraging a culture of mentorship within the Palestinian justice sector, where more experienced lawyers can meet and provide advice and support to younger generations, is also part of the work being done by EUPOL COPPS. Zettergren has positive experience of mentorship programmes herself.

“Mentorship is based on voluntary association – you take part because you want to and so both the mentor and mentee need to be devoted to the project. When I was a student, I took part in a female mentorship programme with mentors at law firms. We had a dialogue about their professional challenges and I got a useful insight in their daily work. Mentorship provides an opportunity to ask the sort of questions that you would not normally be able to ask in a setting such as an interview. In addition, it gives you free access to career advice from someone more experienced. It definitely improved my professional self-esteem,” she says.

Zettergren underlines that mentorship programmes are not just relevant for women but for all professionals who want to grow in their career.

It was planned that a set of training sessions to advance the PBA network would be organised over the course of Spring 2020. The sessions had to be suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “This is an activity that needs a physical presence,” she explains. “There are certain things that can be done online but building a network based on trust and on sharing of experiences is best done in person. It is important to create an atmosphere where the participants feel that they can speak openly and confidently in order to find common ground.”

Speaking about Sweden, Zettergren notes, “Women are very successful at their studies, starting careers, getting traineeships and practicing as lawyers. But when it comes to partnerships in law firms, there are fewer female partners. In academia it’s the same – there are fewer senior female professors. In Sweden as in Palestine, we would like to get to a situation where women are selected for positions on the same criteria as men and are offered equal possibilities.  It really comes down to a question of equality”, she concludes.

NB: The group photo displayed in this article was taken during a workshop in October 2019. As a socially responsible organisation, we support social distancing measures to protect the health of the public.