Have you ever seen those Cover Girl advertisements with the girls with the sexy, luscious, silky, wavy hair? The ones that show you how a woman’s hair should look, but are just advertisements for lip-gloss? Well, I’m not that kind of a cover girl. I might be, but you’ll never know.
Four months in to my time at Windsor Law I decided to put on a headscarf. Contrary to popular belief about women who cover or wear the hijab, I wasn’t forced to do it, I wasn’t asked to do it, I wasn’t getting married, I wasn’t balding, and I wasn’t any other stereotype you can think of. I made my decision of my own free will – crazy, right? Muslim Woman Law Student Has Own Brain. There’s something you don’t read in the news everyday.
In a culture where women are told what kind of pantyhose to wear during the OCI and articling process, there I am thinking can I wear pants? Do I have to wear a black headscarf to interviews? What about to court? If these girls don’t stand a chance with the wrong pantyhose, what chance do I have covered from head to toe?
Although, my attire says a lot more about me than pantyhose would. Some perceive the hijab as a religious statement. Others see it as political, social, or a downright clear symbol of oppression. For me, it’s my personal decision to rightfully practice my faith, irrespective of what others think of it. I understood the implications of putting on a headscarf. On top of being a woman, a Canadian-born South Asian, and having coloured skin, I was adding one more label to the minority package. I was wearing my religion on my head and professors, fellow law students, and future employers could see it. I don’t know if you’ve kept up with the news over the last decade, but my religion in particular isn’t the most popular these days. I knew the existence of all these notions and yet, I chose to wear the headscarf.
I chose to battle these stereotypes and will continue to challenge them. I refuse to accept that in a noble profession that prides itself in upholding the law, that what is on my head is more important than what is in it. Just like it shouldn’t matter that I am a woman, or that I am not white, or that I come from a South Asian background. And yet, it does. Discrimination in the legal profession is often covert. Though, there are always overt examples in the form of proposed savior legislation like the Quebec Charter of Values.
To be clear, challenges to my identity in the legal profession are not from my male counterparts alone. My female colleagues are just as guilty of passing judgment. From the females it’s often sympathy that I’ve been “forced” or “brainwashed” in to covering myself. Other times, it’s vexation over my choice to “hamper” the good fight for the liberation of women and women’s rights. Of course there’s always the universal thought of, “Well, I don’t mind it, but what will clients think?”
Enter Canada in 2014. In a country of Aboriginal Peoples and immigrants living in a globalized world, your clients are no longer the familiar old, heterosexual, white males. A diverse profession is reflective of the communities you serve. It contributes to new perspectives, novel ideas and creative problem solving. Diversity also helps to build relationships and bring in more clients for a more profitable business. After all, it seems counter-intuitive for clients to trust professionals who discriminate amongst their own members. Oh, and there’s also that stuff that pretty clearly tells us not to discriminate. You know like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Rules of Professional Conduct, provincial Human Rights Codes and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. #Whatever.
Diversity and access to justice are not just catch phrases we should throw around when it’s convenient. No woman should have to think about how her clothing will impact her job prospects or how far she can go on the senior partnership track. It’s time to make a change and there’s no better place to start opening our minds than here at Windsor Law.
With Much Love,