Guest bloggers Paulina Cohen ’21 and Cara Hume ’20 report on a law conference they attended in Summer 2019 in Buenos Aires. Paulina will return to Buenos Aires to study in the NYU Law Abroad program in Spring 2020.
This past summer, we were fortunate enough to be able to travel abroad to Argentina for the Women in the Law Conference at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). When we arrived, it was the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, right when New York was beginning to transform into a magnificent sauna. The air was crisp and dry; the leaves were changing and the sun was deeply gold. We were continuously commenting on how simultaneously 1970s yet also Parisian the architecture felt.
Over 20,000 students are enrolled at UBA, most of them coming straight from secondary school. The program runs for six years, and the size of the school felt similar to that of a large state college in the US rather than a typical law school. Our first introduction to UBA and to the law students involved in organizing the conference was a small, intimate, and open-ended roundtable discussion just a few hours after we landed.
At the roundtable discussion, we passed around and sipped from a gourd of mate, the bitter traditional Latin American drink made from leaves of the yerba mate plant, allowing us to feel quickly familiar with a room of strangers. We fluidly discussed as a group the different (or similar) perspectives on and experiences with various gender issues in law schools and within the legal profession more broadly.
With no definitive agenda, we bounced energetically among topics, including Argentina’s recent focus on femicide—the gender-based killing of women—and the Argentinian “Ni Una Menos” movement. “Ni Una Menos,” which translates as “Not one (woman) less,” is a social and political movement that began in 2015 after highly publicized murders of women stunned the nation. Ni Una Menos champions women’s rights and exposes issues relating to sexual harassment, the gender pay gap, abortion, transgender rights, and sex workers’ rights.
Because of the current political landscapes in both Argentina and the United States, our conversation also focused on the fight for guaranteed access to legal and safe abortions in both countries. The ensuing dialogue was emblematic of the fact that despite geographic and cultural distances, these issues act as a common thread.
The conference itself was a whirlwind two days of panels. Professors from law schools both in the US and at UBA explored the position of women within the law, including female representation in law schools and academic curricula; the role of women within the judiciary and other legal professions; and the confrontation of controversial issues of gender, abortion, and #MeToo in practice. On some panels, we heard from female attorneys in both the private and public sectors, while other panels focused on substantive legal issues that impact women, such as abortion rights and the #MeToo movement.
We had the immense privilege of moderating two of these panels. We also presented a panel on the student perspective, sharing with the room the challenges and perspectives that NYU Law Women has experienced as a women’s student organization this past academic year. The attendees heard in detail about Law Women’s new initiatives such as the Allies of Law Women, Law Women Nationwide, the Wholeness Committee, and engagement in political advocacy during Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings. After hearing the word “ally” in connection with some of NYU Law Women’s efforts, the Argentine students wondered exactly what that word represented. Explaining the concept and importance of allies in our lives, we recognized that while we were all endeavoring to combat similar oppressive forces, the ways we do so are different.
Interestingly, throughout these conversations, the Argentine students and professors focused on a desire to accurately and honestly report gender injustices that existed within the school. The gender issues that arose often involved more overt forms of discrimination: inappropriate student-professor interactions, femicide, and institutionalized obstacles preventing establishing courses oriented around gender and the law. These felt different than the more subtle yet pervasive patriarchal forces—unconscious biases and underrepresentation in high-powered professional positions, for example—that seemed to be consuming the discussion within the US. Yet, as NYU Law Professor Melissa Murray effectively guided us through the history of the legal landscape of abortion here in the US and the recent challenges to Roe v. Wade, the ebbs and flows of setbacks and triumphs formed legal and personal themes to which all of us attending the conference could relate.
Recognizing and appreciating those differences felt critical; it not only helped us to understand the Argentine perspective and experience, but gave us a unique opportunity to step outside of our own fight with fresh eyes. Looking ahead, NYU Law Women plans to organize an LLM panel during the second annual Nationwide Women Leadership conference NYU will host in Spring 2020—a retreat bringing together female leaders at law schools around the country to discuss gender issues in the legal profession. We aim to offer critical international perspectives like those from which we learned in Buenos Aires.
We ended the weekend over drinks with the students we had met. It was an evening just like any other at home, with girls with whom we had no connection other than our rooting for one another in our respective legal careers, a shared curiosity in our cultural differences, and our passionate championing of women. We posed for a picture wearing the green scarves that have become the symbol of the Ni Una Menos movement. Our earnest smiles illustrated the hope with which the weekend had filled us.