Zara Tajwar is an advocate and founder of LaWomen, a social enterprise that provides cross-subsidized and tech-enabled legal services for women by women lawyers. She holds an additional Master’s degree in Political Science, has been trained internationally in women’s rights litigation, and has received Fellowships from Women Fund Asia, Kravis Lab for Social Impact, DICE, and OC365.
WIA: How did you find out about the Women’s Impact Alliance (WIA)?
Zara: I received an email from a participant who I became good friends with. We are both social entrepreneurs, so we had similar passions in common.
WIA: What motivated you to apply?
Zara: For background, I am a Pashtoon woman, and I grew up in a culture where women are the most suppressed class in society. Women and girls are considered a kind of commodity here, and probably one in three women have experienced violence at least once in their lifetime. Child marriages, unwanted marriages, and marriages for trade are part of this culture. I work in a very dangerous area where restricting and restraining the movement of women and keeping them inside their houses is a common occurrence. Women are afraid to speak out for their rights.
So in this scenario, I was lucky, and I got an education. I decided to become an advocate and fight for women’s social and economic rights by providing free legal aid to women of my age who are affected by local customs.
My motivation to apply was to connect with and learn from other women who are leading social impact organizations like mine so I can better serve the women of my culture.
I grew up in a culture where women are the most suppressed class in society.
WIA: Would you please tell me more about your social impact organization?
Zara: So the vision of LaWomen is to provide legal help to every woman, rich or poor, within their homes because most of the survivors are unable to leave their houses to get legal help.
To give more context, Pakistan is ranked 153 out of 156 countries in Global Gender Gap Index Report 2021. It is a country of 31 million females aged between 15 to 60 years, out of which 10M experience violence at least once in their lifetime. The access and cost to receive justice are too high for most women in Pakistan. They face colossal backlash in reaching out and discussing the abuse with male lawyers and doctors.
We are providing free and paid legal services for women by women lawyers. What makes us stand apart is our understanding of community dynamics. Female lawyers of LaWomen are from the same community they serve, they understand that a woman who is abused by a man or men is extremely vulnerable and scared of them; therefore, she needs another woman to talk to her. To overcome the challenge of limited mobility for women and to provide uninterrupted services during Pandemic situations, we are building an online platform and a chatbot where women can, without leaving their homes, find and connect with female lawyers, and also female lawyers can work from home through our online platform where they will be able to do online legal research, conduct audio/video meetings with clients, upload and share documents and much more.
WIA: What insights and learnings have you gleaned from your WIA coaching journey so far?
Zara: With my coach, I’ve explored and clarified what my values and strengths are. Our sessions have helped me discover more about myself and my empowerment. I’ve grown up in a culture where I’m told I’m inferior and weak, so I have these limitations inside my head. And sometimes, these things come into conflict with my work, and sometimes they affect my work as well. So, that is one of the reasons that I have joined this fellowship - to build on my strengths, to learn more about myself, and to know what I can do. I’ve discovered that independence is one of my values, as well as openness and clarity. My strengths are my sympathy, my empathy, and the way I care about people. I want to keep building on these strengths.
WIA facilitates belonging and helps women to feel they belong to a community with people from different racial identities.
WIA: What makes the WIA experience different from similar support groups and programs?
Zara: I have been aware of other mentoring programs for women, but WIA is unique. I haven’t encountered any such coaching program that focuses on your personal and professional self-discovery in this way. When you talk to your coach, the questions are designed for you to think about, be introspective and reflect on answers relevant to your own growth path.
WIA: Do you think WIA would resonate particularly with women of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds?
Zara: Yes, of course. This program is very meaningful because you’re exposed to women from different countries. Especially for women like me from far-off places, we have no such opportunities in person or online within our own countries to meet people from other third-world countries. WIA facilitates belonging and helps women to feel they belong to a community with people from different racial identities. This is so important.