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Anyone privileged enough to have received a legal education shares a responsibility to ensure that respect, ethics and integrity lie at the core of what they do, but the work of advocates is getting harder.

Promoting gender equality has become more and more difficult in the past few years. I sense that our progress is slowing and that hostility to human rights is actually growing. While I don’t have clear data for this, my meetings with human rights defenders across the world tell me it is so.

I have just returned from Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, where I once again heard from human rights defenders that women’s rights around the globe are facing an alarming backlash. As the United Nations independent expert group on Discrimination Against Women warns: “The world is at a crossroads, with the very concept of gender equality being increasingly contested in some quarters”.

Over a number of years I have come to understand that law and reform must be about people, and that the rule of law and democracy are not there to serve an academic ideal but to serve ordinary communities and individuals. We don’t take action because of the statistics we’ve read, or the legal principles we’ve considered. We take action because of our interactions with other human beings.

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