Saint Louis University

Hauwa Ibrahim: "Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women", the third UN Millennium Goal

2010 Sam and Marilyn Fox Atlas Week Program

Hauwa Ibrahim is a Senior Partner and the Pro Bono Legal Aid Counsel in the General Law Practice of the Aries Law Firm located in Abuja, Nigeria. One of the top defenders of women's rights in Nigeria, Ibrahim has successfully challenged numerous charges and convictions under strict Islamic Sharia law in her country. A firm proponent of the rule of law, she has argued that Sharia law requires the courts to respect the procedural and substantive rights guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution. She won international acclaim for her successful defense of a woman who was on trial for having a child out of wedlock and who had been sentenced to death by stoning. Since 1999, when many states in Nigeria adopted Islamic Sharia in criminal proceedings, Ibrahim has served as defense counsel in more than 100 pro bono Sharia-related cases. She is one of the few female lawyers practicing in northern Nigeria.

Ms. Ibrahim is the mother of two. She was born in a small, poor village, the daughter of a Mullah. A career as a lawyer was not supposed to figure in her destiny. At the age of 12, she was supposed to get married and her studies would have ended at primary school. However, she refused this destiny financing her studies herself. She is acutely aware of the importance of education as the best defense for those facing the greatest deprivation. Poverty and illiteracy go hand in hand - and fundamentalism feeds on ignorance. Ms. Ibrahim believes that the bedrock of society is fairness, justice, and equity. It is this belief which drives her to fight for the poor and marginalized.

Prior to launching her practice in 1999, she was a prosecutor in the Ministry of Justice in Bauchi State. Ibrahim's professional accomplishments also include election as the first female National Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association in 2000 and authorship of the first draft of the constitution for the Pan African Lawyers Union in 2002. Ibrahim has served as a consultant to the United Nations Development Program, the European Union, and the NGO Lawyers without Borders.

The European Parliament presented Ibrahim with its 2005 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which honors individuals or organizations for their efforts on behalf of human rights and freedoms. In 2008, the Danish Government awarded Ibrahim an MDG3 Torch as part of its "Call to Action" Campaign focusing on women's empowerment.

Ibrahim has earned an LLB and a master's in international law and diplomacy from the University of Jos in Nigeria; a BL for legal practice from Nigeria Law School; and a master's of law degree in international studies at American University's Washington College of Law. Ms. Ibrahim has been a Visiting Professor at Saint Louis University School of Law (2006), a World Fellow at Yale University, and a Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard University.

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