ILF-Myanmar Advocate Greets Released Client
With your support, over the last few months, the ILF has established a legal aid program in Myanmar and has begun defending the poor in court. With just our first few cases, we have already succeeded in showing the impact of having a qualified defense lawyer represent the accused in court by securing the pretrial release of poor and vulnerable accused charged with minor, nonviolent offenses. Denied access to a lawyer who can defend their rights, most criminally accused in Myanmar are illegally or arbitrary detained for months pending trial, even for very minor offenses.
This accomplishment was made possible through the International Legal Foundation’s unique and intensive mentorship model, whereby our lawyers are closely mentored and taught how to use the law to apply for their clients’ pre-trial release and to challenge arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention. The winning legal argumentwas developed and implemented through the close cooperation and mentoring of the ILF’s first two Myanmar legal aid lawyers by ILF experts and our first ILF-Myanmar International Fellow.
We are incredibly proud of the pioneering Myanmar public defenders working with the ILF in Myanmar to bring about change and ensure access to justice for the poorest and most vulnerable. Their story is also incredibly important as the ILF’s first two public defenders in Myanmarare women,working in a still male-dominated and socially conservative country.
In celebrating her success, we asked Ms. Yu Yu Aung, one of our first two ILF-Myanmar legal aid lawyers, to tell us why she became a defense lawyer for the poor. This is her story:
"I have always been dedicated to becoming a lawyer, but was discouraged from this by many people. Social norms, stereotypes and community perceptions support the idea that being a lawyer is not an appropriate job for a woman. People think that women should get stable, calm public service jobs, and jobs that keep them close to home. My parents thought that being a lawyer was not appropriate for a woman, and insisted that I study to be a teacher, which is more typical and socially acceptable. I told my parents that I would not go to university unless I could study law; fortunately, they eventually agreed.
During law school, there was both blatant and subtle gender discrimination. For example, girls have to get higher marks than boys to qualify to study certain subjects like law, medicine, and engineering—despite this, there are still more girls than boys in these top subjects! But still, professors clearly favor male students, and everyone looks for reasons to doubt female students’ abilities. If a male student has a girlfriend in university, people don’t care; but if a female student has a boyfriend, people claim she is wasting her time because she will just end up a housewife. And if a male student takes a long time to graduate, it is not a reflection on his ability or intelligence; but if a female student takes a long time, she is deemed incompetent.
After university, many of my female classmates became teachers or public servants instead of lawyers, but I persevered. During my Chamber Reading (a post-graduation training period), my supervisor would not invite me to meetings with male judges or clerks—it was a Boys Club that I was not allowed to enter. After my training period, I took the Court Service Exam to try to qualify to be a court officer; despite doing very well on the exam, I was not chosen. Instead, a male graduate, who had not even finished his training period, was chosen over me.
When I began representing clients, sometimes they would refuse to have a female lawyer, even though I would work pro bono. I gave 110% to all of my clients, but many were skeptical because I was a young woman and they wanted an experienced male lawyer. Still, I have had some big wins for my clients, and when I do, I call my parents to tell them about my success. I eventually won them over, so they know I chose the right profession and that I’m very good at it. Now that I am working with the ILF as a public defender, I am so happy that I didn’t get that court officer position!"
We’ve made incredible strides in Myanmar, but we still need your help. Please consider renewing your donation today and helping us to advance access to justice in Myanmar and around the world.