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I’ve lost track of panels I’ve attended with women leaders and activists – who are invited to speak about their careers, accomplishments, and lessons learned – where the conversation almost inevitably skews to questions about work life balance. And quite often, the questions are asked by other women (often younger women) who want to know how to achieve similar success, but also have a life at home.

But rarely have I attended a panel about careers where men are asked how they manage to balance their life at home with their career ambitions. And I don’t think I can recall a single instance where young men in the audience have asked questions about balance, or sought advice on managing family and work in their own lives.

Work life balance is undoubtedly important, but these are questions we should all be asking and answering.  Balance, and the need to care for family members, is a problem that affects both men and women.  Although it affects everyone, it is unfortunately (and inaccurately) perceived as a “women’s problem.”

In her new book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter notes that a 2013 Pew study on parenting showed that 50% of fathers, and 56% of mothers with children at home said that they find it difficult to balance the responsibilities of work with those of their family. Slaughter writes,

“…both women and men who experience the dual tug of care and career and as a result must make compromises at work pay a price. Redefining the women’s problem as a care problem thus broadens our lens and allows us to focus much more precisely on the real issue: the undervaluing of care, no matter who does it.”

She goes on to note that “it’s easy for employers to marginalize an issue if they label it a ‘women’s problem.’ A women’s problem is an individual issue, not a company-wide dilemma.”  But if it is a broader, more systemic problem of valuing care, it suddenly becomes much more pressing of a challenge for businesses and workplaces.  Slaughter also underscores that journalists, the media, business, and industry all choose to frame issues of care, and work life balance, as “women’s issues.”

Indeed, attending events and asking female panelists questions about how they manage to balance work and life — and failing to ask male panelists the very same questions — shows our bias as a society, and further perpetuates this myth that care and balance is “women’s work.”

So the next time you attend a panel (and particularly if you are male!), why not pose the very same questions to male panelists? Ask them how they managed to achieve career success, while also managing to balance family and care.

Only by posing these questions equally can we start eradicating the assumption that balance and care is for women alone. It may not solve the problem, but it is certainly a start.

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This is not a travel blog.

And yet, I would be remiss not to share some photographs of my recent travels throughout Turkey, an incredibly beautiful country.

We explored the country from distant Cappadocia – with its fairytale mountains and chimneys and ancient monasteries looking straight out of another planet – to Izmir, where we walked beside the coast and touched the Aegean Sea.  Izmir captured my heart and reminded me of California. The weather was warm, the food was delicious, and the views were incredible. Izmir is wine country, and filled with rolling hills, greenery and truly spectacular sunsets. We went to Selcuk, the small town of Sirince (known for its delicious fruit wines), and most incredibly the ancient ruins in Ephesus and Hierapolis. We also soaked in the mud baths of Pammukale and enjoyed the breathtaking views after climbing up the cold cold travertines. It was a challenge, no doubt, but absolutely worth it to feel truly on top of the world.

And finally – Istanbul. Filled with cats and delicious tea and nargile, this city by the water is incredibly beautiful, dotted with mosques especially in the sunset. The city (and country) has amazing mosques filled with intricate detail, and layers upon layers of history – from the Romans to the Greeks to the Ottoman empire. It is truly a magical meeting place where East collides with West. The sunset on the Istanbul skyline is truly incredible, the people are so hospitable and kind, the food and drinks are so tasty.

What an incredible place.

IMG_3784Incredible views of Cappadocia

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IMG_3846Views of Cappadocia from Goreme Open Air Museum

IMG_3918Many lanterns are made out of carving and decoration on gourds in Cappadocia.

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IMG_4310You can’t beat the sunsets in Turkey, and this was no exception. Sunset over Pigeon Valley in Cappadocia.

IMG_4240Visiting Selime Monastery near Cappadocia was a surreal experience.  An ancient monastery nestled in such interesting rock formations and mountains. Can’t be beat.

IMG_4074Walking through an ancient city in the Ihlara Valley.

Lots of delicious food and drink in Turkey.  Some of my favorites: mezes (various appetizers), sahlep (a warm, creamy winter drink), moussaka, and of course – lots of Turkish apple tea (çay) and baklava.

IMG_4381Views of the Aegean Sea near Ephesus, Turkey. Simply stunning.

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There are so many cats everywhere around Turkey. Truly adorable and a joy for all cat lovers!

IMG_4585The ancient ruins of Ephesus. Simply amazing.

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IMG_4753 1Views of Pammukale, hot springs and cold travertines. An amazing natural formation.

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IMG_4816 1A breathtaking view of the ancient city of Hierapolis – after you climb up high in Pammukale.

The very picturesque small town of Sirince – known for its excellent fruit wines. Blueberry, Blackberry, Strawberry – you name it. Quite refreshing and delicious.

IMG_4854View of city of Selcuk from atop Ayasuluk Castle.

IMG_4867St. John’s Basilica in Selcuk.

IMG_4878Ayasuluk Castle, Selcuk

And of course – the bustling, beautiful city of Istanbul, dotted with its mosques.

IMG_5444The fisherman on Galata bridge, at night.

Happy 2015 everyone!

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This March, I had the incredible fortune of going to Kenya for a week, and had an absolutely wonderful time. The country is beautiful, picturesque and vibrant. Things are constantly changing and developing with the country’s new Constitution and decentralization process, and there is a sense of hope, possibility and optimism. It was an amazing time to visit the country. I wanted to share a few pictures!

2014-03-23 09.50.33-1Church in Nairobi on a Sunday.

2014-03-17 18.57.24A visit to the Supreme Court – a new and dynamic institution in itself.

2014-03-18 12.01.52Visits to iHub, an awesome space for tech startups and social enterprises to grow.

2014-03-19 15.02.14Public artwork in Nairobi; a city with many architectural and artistic gems.

2014-03-19 15.37.58Another view of the church in downtown Nairobi.

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2014-03-20 13.16.06Some enlightening conversations with non-profits providing access to legal services and medical services to survivors of rape and domestic violence in and around Kibera. Amazing work is being done expanding women’s access to justice in a critical time of need.

2014-03-20 13.47.04PAWA254: a space for artists and activists to gather, work & collaborate. Beautiful!

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2014-03-21 09.13.47Overlooking the Great Rift Valley on our way out of Nairobi. Such an amazing place.

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Kenya (March 2014)David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage!

2014-03-16 15.23.52Safari in Nairobi National Park!

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2014-03-21 15.11.43Waterfall in Lake Nakuru National Park

2014-03-21 17.57.09Ending with a surreal, ethereal sunset boat ride over Lake Naivasha.

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I am truly excited to announce my very first published paper! I’ve been working on this paper since 2012, when I spent two months in Bangladesh researching BRAC’s expansive and community-based legal aid and legal empowerment program, and particularly its impact on women’s rights.

I’m very happy to say that my piece has been published by the World Bank Justice and Development Working Paper Series. I could not be more thankful to BRAC for allowing me to conduct this research and to study their access to justice and dispute resolution model, and also to the World Bank for choosing to focus on important issues of legal empowerment of the poor — an issue all too often neglected among other development and human rights priorities. Here’s the abstract:

This piece examines the current status of justice and dispute-resolution mechanisms in Bangladesh, ranging from the formal justice system to the traditional shalish (a form of dispute resolution), and focuses on the costs and benefits of utilizing nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led legal services programs as an alternative form of justice delivery and dispute resolution for the poor, with a focus on women and girls. In particular, this paper takes a closer look at the Human Rights and Legal Aid Services (HRLS) program of BRAC, a leading NGO that works to empower the poorest and most vulnerable in Bangladesh and eleven other countries across the world. HRLS provides a combination of BRAC-led shalish, human rights community based education, community mobilization through a corps of community-based outreach workers (known as shebikas), and recourse to the courts via a network of panel lawyers if needed. This paper will examine the successes of this model in rural Bangladesh as well as the challenges it faces in making an impact on solving the justice problems of the poor and contributing to gender equity. Ultimately, it aims to present a case study that illustrates the strengths and challenges of a legal empowerment model that is quickly gaining traction around the world.

 You can read the complete piece here.

Also, please take a look at some of the other working papers in this series – they are all truly incredible and shed light on a range of fascinating and important issues within access to justice, rule of law, and legal empowerment.

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NewYearPost

This was a momentous year. I’d call it a marathon. It was a marathon – not necessarily (or at all) of the body – but of the soul, of the spirit, of the heart, of the brain.

In all honesty, this year has left me fulfilled but also a bit exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

It was an exercise in calisthenics for one sore brain. It was a year of turning from fresh-faced 1L into seasoned 2L (I hope!). The joyful completion of one of the most difficult things I’ve done: the first year of law school. This year meant many late nights in the library studying everything from property to public international law to sex equality to immigration policy. Some more lovable than others, but all instructive. Much work, little play. Finishing my second and third set of law school finals. My first (mock) and real oral arguments as a budding lawyer. Reuniting with old friends in the district.

It was my first step onto African soil — years in the making. Sierra Leone, green with its lush and verdant countryside. Bumpy, helmeted okada [motorcycle] rides through dusty red roads. Avoiding malaria. Innumerable cold bucket showers, refreshing each time. Playing in Freetown, Kenema, Bo, and Portloko. Traveling by bus, buying corn by the roadside. Working with clients and communities to solve their legal problems. Legal awareness sessions. Dealing with unspeakable violence and abuse of women. And yet immeasurable joy. Dealing with police and local courts. Visiting the prison in Bo. Getting caught in the heavy downpours. Raincoats, rainpants, on okada, on foot. Endless greetings in the morning and shouts of ‘pumoui!’ Children! Cassava leaf (perhaps too much!). No electricity. Dark nights. Lots of kindle reading. Lots of fish, for the first time ever, with lots of bones. Dancing to battery-powered radio. Dancing in the local court with the entire town. Dancing with children, young women and girls, and grandmas. Clubbing in Bo. Late evenings spent at roadside shacks. Drinking palm wine with a local chief. Beach views and haggling for bargains in Freetown. Colorful dresses and beads. Getting Africana clothes stitched. Sitting at the junction, watching generator-powered Nigerian movies late at night. Poverty. Friends. Kindness. Laughter. Town gossip. Dancing, lots of dancing. Yet, feelings of futility. Guilt.

Getting back to America; re-adjusting to seeming luxury – endless coffee flavors, long menus, delicious food at your fingertips. Running hot water and constant electricity. Internet! Tv! Friends and family. Comfortable beds and couches. No spiders or centipedes! A return to Cambridge. 

Love, and an engagement! Reunited after years apart. Celebration upon celebration. Photoshoots and parties in Boston and New Jersey. Finding not just a house but a home in Cambridge. Moving in. Decorating. Printing photos from travels to hang on the walls. Painting a red room off-white, eggshell, cream. Pangs of adulthood. Missing youth. Staying in, instead of going out. Fall colors. Crunchy leaves. Walks along Walden Pond, peaceful musings. Hectic pace of work – in over my head. Realizing 2L wasn’t going to be relaxing either. And yet, loving time in between spent with friends and family. Finding moments to breathe.

This year brought a first step into court, not as an observer but as a lawyer. Representing clients. Negotiating with opposing parties. Speaking before a judge. Giving an opening statement. Working with domestic violence survivors: trauma, hope, joy, frustration, love, sadness. Cycles of violence. Family law. Understanding and navigating the system. Believing in client-centered lawyering even more deeply. Loving my clients; understanding but a glimpse of their complex lives.

Here’s to 2013, a year that taught me a lot — about myself and about the world. This year, I was immersed in the present, absorbed with work that I loved. I confronted many fears and followed some dreams, and grew as a person in the process. In 2014, I hope to be: more joyful, continually immersed in the present, and more willing to follow and listen to my heart despite the risks it may entail and the pressure to do otherwise. I hope to dedicate more time to the things that matter: the work I truly love. Most of all, I hope I find inspiration and passion that re-ignites my life. Happy New Year, all!

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lean-in-book-review

In reading Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, I found many lessons that were highly applicable to my own life. Her words provided encouragement to stay confident and to push forward for my dream career rather than stepping back at a young age to focus instead on family and marriage. And yet, I found myself ultimately deeply skeptical of her intrinsic argument for a variety of reasons.

 First, although Sandberg herself acknowledges this, her book largely applies only to the 1% — to privileged women who have had the opportunity to pursue higher education and who have the option of building a successful career. Her lessons do not apply to the vast majority of women in America or even around the world, who are poor, struggling to even find minimum wage jobs, who are subject to domestic and gender-based violence, who are new immigrants lacking basic financial security. Her arguments also make the assumption not just of economic advantage, but heterosexuality. Lean In is entirely targeted towards women in traditional, heterosexual relationships, who desire to have children and have a traditional conception of ‘family.’ But what of women who do not fit this mold?

 I do agree that a criticism of feminism through the portrayal of (and attack of) the “wealthy white feminist woman” is itself a stereotypical construction, since the majority of white women are also poor and systematically battered in their homes. Much of the gender violence occurring today in the U.S. to white women – such as the recent rape of Daisy Coleman in Maryville, MO – is no less horrific than what is happening around the world to women of color. And yet, Sandberg is specifically targeting heterosexual women of privilege, not just white women. She focuses on getting women who are already economically privileged into the top positions; in the process, she not only ignores the needs of women who are in positions of socioeconomic disadvantage, but she also misses a key point, which is that simply placing already advantaged women into the topmost leadership positions will not change much about our society. Inequality will only be reduced if we address the roots of inequality, and focusing on getting privileged women into positions of even greater privilege does not do so.

Second, Sandberg’s critique is a highly individualistic one that serves to perpetuate inequality through our country’s capitalist structure. She buys in completely to our capitalistic economic model, focused on getting ahead rather than a true balance of work and life. She never pauses to ask the question of whether our current model is even the right one. Most of all, she places the onus squarely on women themselves to correct the power imbalances in our country and to right the dismal statistics showing so few women in positions of top leadership in business, finance, law, academia, and politics. Sandberg urges women to remain confident, not to step back too early from a burgeoning career to instead care for family, and to find the ‘right’ spouse who will be supportive and shoulder an equal burden at home.

Yet, for all this to happen, the opportunities have to be there in the first place; societal expectations and our current socioeconomic structure must change. A dramatic societal shift is needed: currently, far fewer men than women stay home to take care of children, and men generally do not spend equal time on household chores. The reality is that the majority of men “do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job,” as Anne Marie Slaughter observes in her piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” As she notes, every male Supreme Court justice has a family – but two of the three female justices are single with no children. Although men are regularly supportive and encouraging, on a statistical scale they are still less likely to take a step back in their career to prioritize family. Yet, there are reasons for this too: employers penalize men who attempt to cut back their careers for personal reasons. Further, social stereotypes and expectations continue to preference rigid gender roles for both men and women.  I believe the blame lies more in patriarchy as a whole than the attitudes of individual men.

But any societal shift towards a more equitable division in household labor will only happen if our policies radically shift. Our government must, to begin with, provide equal paid parental leave for mothers and fathers.  Currently, mothers and fathers are not guaranteed any paid leave, and only 11.4% of workplaces in the U.S. provide paid parental leave. Since employers tend to assume women shoulder the burden, maternity leave is more common than paid paternity leave, leading to further inequality. In comparison, France and the Netherlands provide 112 days of paid maternity and paternity leave at 100% pay. As noted in the article, “In Sweden, Men Can Have It all,” a shift in the laws related to parental leave and childcare could easily lead to a significant societal shift over time by normalizing and legitimizing the decision of men to spend more time at home, thus lessening the burden on mothers and making the choice of leaning in actually possible.

Yet, Sandberg does not pay much attention to such need for structural reform, instead choosing to focus on the individual. This parlays into the prevalent idea of the American dream – that if women work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they can achieve anything. Sandberg’s philosophy – assuming women can choose from various prime job options, that they can choose a truly supportive spouse, that women can even choose when exactly in their career to have children – is premised on those very same ideas of individuality, freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, the reality is very different than Sandberg’s construction of choice, opportunities, and freedom, and most women throughout the world lack real choice in making decisions related to their own careers and bodies due to historical disadvantage including an intersection of racism, sexism, poverty, and violence.  Without addressing the root of this disadvantage, putting privileged women into positions of greater power will not necessarily make our society fundamentally more equal.

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In a previous post, I spoke about how this fall has been a time of being plunged into a whirlpool of questions.

There are questions about personal career choice as law school begins to come to an end (even almost two years away, as graduation is, these questions loom ever closer). Do I love direct legal services, or international women’s rights and access to justice — or as is more likely both? Am I pursuing my dream or am I giving them up for something more comfortable, less challenging? Am I abandoning my biggest hopes for fear, once again — or am I actually pursuing what I love most?

And there are also questions about effectiveness. What is the most effective strategy to combat violence against women? Does direct legal aid help, and if so, how much? What about legal trainings of lawyers and judges? And public interest litigation? And legal awareness trainings in communities?  Is the focus on judicial system strengthening needed or is it myopic in its ultimate goal? What about holistic legal & social services — does it actually make as great an impact as I think, and hope? Many of these questions come down to: how do I find what to dedicate my life to — what makes the most impact, and also what makes me come alive the most? I wish I knew the answers immediately. And yet, sometimes they seem more elusive than ever. Not knowing the answers immediately and intimately often seems to cause me the most frustration.

Yet, I recently came across these words by Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, which helped to drastically change my outlook:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps indeed you carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly pure and blessed kind of life; train yourself for it — but take what comes in complete trust. – Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

And on enduring a state of doubt:

To be genuinely thoughtful, we must be willing to sustain and protract that state of doubt which is the stimulus to thorough enquiry, so as not to accept an idea or make a positive assertion of a belief, until justifying reasons have been found.

And so, here I am — trying to take these lessons to heart. I am trying to, instead of demanding myself to arrive at an immediate answer, learning to love the journey of exploration and of navigating through these questions. Ultimately, it means following my heart in the moment, rather than demanding ultimate explanations. It is about eschewing ultimatums and learning to love the questions, the process of finding oneself, the learning gained from each step, and slowly, but surely, getting closer to the answers.

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Sometimes, you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of student life to enjoy a morning of solitude, crispy fresh air and crunchy leaves, and the beauty of nature to rejuvenate yourself. This visit to Walden Pond reminded me of so many pieces of wisdom that Thoreau gives us, and his reminder to always walk your own path, be a truly and genuinely good person, be present, live simply, and pursue your dreams. It is a much needed reminder in a hectic year for me, in which it is easy to forget those simple lessons.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”  – Thoreau

2013-10-13 12.14.22-1Jars of Jam in a Turkish Bakery in Cambridge

2013-10-13 10.17.33-1A crisp autumn morning spent in seclusion with Thoreau at Walden Pond, MA

2013-10-13 10.13.01Beautiful autumn colors at Walden Pond, MA

2013-10-13 10.00.46Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. – Henry David Thoreau

2013-10-13 10.03.54I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. – Thoreau

2013-10-13 10.00.25-1What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us. – Thoreau

2013-10-13 09.29.02Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence. – Thoreau

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