Seminar: Women and the Law (1997)
Occupation: Rule of Law Access to Justice Officer, United Nations Development Programme
Education: JD, Tulane University School of Law; BA, International Relations and Women’s Studies, Tulane University (PLEN Member)
As a first year student at Tulane University, Shama Farooq was immediately attracted to social justice issues. Her passion for social justice led her to get involved with activism on campus related directly to human rights and, more specifically, international women’s rights. As a student of International Relations and Women’s Studies, Farooq was searching for a way to combine her two areas of study and follow her passion for providing services to those in need.
While at Tulane University, Farooq attended numerous forums and events dedicated to women’s leadership, constantly challenging her thoughts and assumptions about herself and the world around her. The Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar was one of these events. Looking for the intersection between her International Relations and Women’s Studies classes, Farooq was introduced to the world of policy in Washington, DC and abroad.
She credits one speaker in particular, Layli Miller-Muro, for showing her that law can be the perfect path to combine her interests in women’s rights and international policy. When Farooq met Miller-Muro at the 1997 seminar, she was a practicing attorney at Arnold & Porter, working in international litigation. Miller-Muro’s focus on dismantling stereotypes about women abroad that led to ineffective aid spoke to Farooq and inspired her to follow a similar path. To Farooq, Miller-Muro had a clear set of professional skills and was able to apply those skills to provide practical services to others who needed them. Since speaking to the young women at the 1997 PLEN seminar, Miller-Muro went on to found the Tahirih Justice Center, which provides direct services and support to immigrant women and girls in the United States and also advocates for national policies on their behalf.
Connecting with Miller-Muro proved to Farooq that it is imperative to “develop relationships with mentors in the field early because this field requires relationships to open doors.” Later in her career, Farooq reconnected with the Tahirih Justice Center and partnered with the organization on local campaign in Virginia.
Since attending the PLEN Women, Law, and Legal Advocacy seminar, Farooq has worked in almost every sector of the legal field in the US and around the world. She currently lives in Myanmar, where she is a Rule of Law Officer with the United Nations Development Programme. Through this role, she is able to provide services to local communities and solve issues by building local relationships in a “rapidly developing country that has now opened up after decades of military rule and civil strife some of which is still ongoing.”
Prior to joining the UNDP, Farooq gained experience using her legal degree from Tulane University in many different environments. She has worked as a Fellow and Deputy Program Director for The International Legal Foundation in Palestine and NY; the Deputy Public Defender and Appellate Coordinator for the Office of the Public Defender in Fredericksburg, VA; and a Lecturer of Law at the Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen, China. Farooq’s professional history proves the fluidity of careers and multitude of applications for a law degree. While Farooq has a wide variety of experiences, she says that her ability to constantly self-improve and solve problems on the spot has helped her navigate different professional environments. “Whether you’re in the courtroom, classroom or in a foreign meeting room negotiating a partnership,” she says “You have to be ready to come up with new solutions to whatever challenges you are facing. Recognizing not only that there is always room for improvement but that in fact each time you perform a task you must be better at it than the time before is key to constant self-improvement.”
Farooq has dedicated her professional life to supporting others through the policy and legal fields, and as she moves up in her career, she also prioritizes supporting the next generation of policy leaders through mentoring. While in the Fredericksburg Public Defender’s Office, Farooq spent much of her time training younger attorneys, and she says that reconnecting with them and learning about their accomplishments years later is at the top of her list of professional accomplishments. Additionally, Farooq returned to PLEN to speak on panels in 2011 and 2012, where she spoke to students about the intersection of law and international policy.
Not only has Farooq pursued as many new and interesting internships and jobs as possible, but she has also gone beyond the usual destinations for American students, leading her to jobs in different countries around the world. Her ability to travel the world was supported by her strategic choices for furthering her education. Farooq attended PLEN Member School Tulane University as an undergraduate, and because of its reputation for being at the forefront of women’s higher education in the United States, she returned to attend the Tulane University Law School. On her decision, she advises other students to “pick good quality schools that want you and will assist you financially because you do not want to be locking into jobs you don’t like because of financial obligations.”
As a lawyer, Farooq also advises student to do as much research as possible in order to be successful. “Be mindful that you must have expertise in something and pursue the most reputable source to help you develop that expertise,” she says. “Do your research for whatever field you are going into to understand its challenges early on,” and choose a law school that can help you alleviate those challenges.
Out of all of the knowledge and skills that Farooq learned at PLEN that have led her all over the world, she highlights what Miller-Muro taught her about work-life balance. She notes the memorable balance that Miller-Muro established between being mindful of your lifestyle while also not compromising on personal priorities. With Miller-Muro’s advice in mind, Farooq has prioritized three personal and professional priorities that keep her balanced: “develop healthy work habits early, look after your spiritual health, and invest in relationships with the community where you work to understand their needs better.”
By Hayley Humiston • 2017