Work­ing hard to earn re­spect

Friday - - Society -

For the first year she worked on a pro bono ba­sis, earn­ing money by do­ing con­sul­tancy and men­tor­ing on the side, and tak­ing on cases she be­lieved in. “It was so un­usu­ally chaotic at first and it just made no sense to me at all,” she says. “Plus, I didn’t speak the lan­guage, so I had to use trans­la­tors in court.” Kim­ber­ley still uses this group of of­fi­cial trans­la­tors, but she also uses an iPad app to trans­late tracts of Sharia. “I worked hard, re­fused to take bribes, and grad­u­ally earned the re­spect of judges and other lawyers.”

De­cid­ing she could do more good as a prac­tis­ing de­fence lawyer, Kim­berly set up her own firm, Mot­ley Le­gal Ser­vices, be­com­ing the first – and only – fe­male for­eign at­tor­ney in the en­tire coun­try. There are no other women in Afghanistan prac­tis­ing law, let alone with their own prac­tice. “I took baby steps to start with,” she says. “When I ar­rived I had no idea I’d be do­ing what I am now, run­ning my own firm.”

Un­like mostWestern women in Afghanistan, she re­fuses to wear a head­scarf, say­ing, “I need to be strong and a lawyer. I can­not let down my clients.”

The re­spect she has gained from her peers seems to strengthen with ev­ery case. “I get com­pli­ments from judges. They say, ‘We’re so proud of you, here in our courts and fight­ing in our sys­tem’. They un­der­stand I’m there like them, do­ing a le­gal job just like them.”

De­spite win­ning awards – in­clud­ing the Spirit of Mar­quette Award for those un­der 40, awarded in 2012 by Mar­quette Law School and the Tom C Clark Award (a for­mer US Supreme Court of Jus­tice) in the same year – Kim­ber­ley in­sists it’s the work she does that mat­ters.

As Kim­ber­ley and her work be­come more high-pro­file, the risks are in­creas­ing. “I’ve had death threats over email and phone,” she says. “It’s be­cause what I do is ef­fec­tive and it’s em­bar­rass­ing for some peo­ple. They want th­ese is­sues, things that hap­pen [in Afghanistan] that I’m high­light­ing, pushed un­der the rug.”

“Dur­ing the Gul­naz episode my house was ran­sacked and my elec­tric­ity cut off. The ha­rass­ment was daily and be­came so in­tense I was forced to move out and slept in my car for a month in freez­ing De­cem­ber weather. In the morn­ings I’d wash at the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force base, then go to work. It was good for me though, it made me stronger.”

She es­ti­mates there have been eight ar­rest war­rants is­sued against her to date, none of which has held up. “I’ve been de­tained twice, but they don’t have any­thing on me – it’s bul­ly­ing tac­tics that frankly don’t work. On the flip side it’s a back-handed com­pli­ment.” She hasn’t re­ported any threats to the po­lice. “No, to my em­bassy, but not the po­lice,” she says. “There’s not a lot [the po­lice] can do. I don’t want to sound like this big ma­cho woman, but I’m not scared. I don’t have time to be scared.”

Five years on Kim­berly spends eight or nine months of the year in Kabul, and the rest of the year in North Carolina with her fam­ily. “I still miss them enor­mously but I talk to the kids sev­eral times a day and watch their sport­ing events or school plays on Skype, and fly home when I can. It’s al­ways a wrench to leave, but I know how much I’m needed in Afghanistan.”

To re­lax she’s got those spin classes to teach to sol­diers serv­ing with the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force – the al­lied coali­tion. And back home she likes to “dance for fun, or just sit qui­etly with no dis­trac­tions”, and spend time with her fam­ily, “away from the chaos”. It’s pretty clear she misses that chaos, though.

“I have no in­ten­tion of go­ing any­where. I’m pas­sion­ate about what I do, and that’s help­ing the lit­tle peo­ple – women like Gul­naz, pun­ished for be­ing vic­tims of bru­tal crimes. They don’t have a voice. Un­til they do, I’ll use mine to say what needs to be said.”

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