Warwick scores legal first

A strong sense of responsibility has helped drive Shaheen Sardar Ali up the academic career ladder to become the UK's first female Pakistani professor of law, at Warwick University.

In her home country, where she is the only woman ever to have held a law professorship, she overcame huge cultural barriers to juggle raising three children with work at the University of Peshawar. "I had an exam every year and a child every year for three years. I feel I lived gender equality. I lived that struggle," she said.

The experience hardened her resolve. It may also have influenced her move into international law in gender equality and human rights, a field in which she is now a recognised world expert.

She said: "As soon as you step out of the house, you get people questioning why you think you have the right to push back the boundaries. I wanted to show people I could be a good wife and mother and still be a good professional, all within the boundaries of my culture and tradition.

"I always felt I had a responsibility because I felt I was in the limelight and if I got it wrong, I would prevent other women in similar positions from moving forward. That spurred me on."

A Foreign and Commonwealth Scholarship allowed her to come to the UK in 1990, to take an LLM in international law at Hull University. She returned to Pakistan and gained a professorship at Peshawar in 1995. Three years later, she was back in the UK as a law lecturer at Warwick.

The university released her for two years to serve as minister for health, population welfare and women's development in Pakistan's North West Frontier province. At the same time, she became a reader at Warwick.

Her work at Warwick will include studies of women in work and of ways to improve opportunities for female academics. As for her own career, she does not expect to hit a glass ceiling. She might even become the UK's first female Pakistani vice-chancellor.

She said: "It does not seem to me that if I wanted to apply to become a vice-chancellor that there is anything that could bog me down and prevent me from succeeding."

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