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Sisters in Law launch masterclass for female legal practitioners

From left - Dr. Zetta Elliott, award-winning writer and barrister Susan Belgrave

IT IS becoming more universally-acknowledged that improved gender equity is good for society, business and law. Yes, in the 21st century, diversity is the way to go for generation 'Y', the millennials, who are going where no wo/man has ever gone before.

Thus, on May 11 2017, in recognition of the recent celebration of International Women's Day, Coventry Law School (CLS), the Centre for Global Engagement and FabAfriq magazine ‘walked the talk’ and launched its first Sisters-in-Law: Models of Excellence masterclass.

Enthusiastically welcomed by a broad diverse audience of students, staff and members of the non-academic global majority community in attendance, this event subtly foregrounded the issue of gender equity, without literally making gender equity a big issue, by focusing on the themes of intellectual property, equity in publishing and cultural appropriation, the latter a focal subject currently on the front burner of the global legal mindscape.

Featured speakers for the evening were USA-based international award-winning writer and advocate for greater equity in publishing Dr. Zetta Elliott, and intellectual property law expert Tania Phipps-Rufus. Barrister-at-Law Susan Belgrave was in the Chair and fellow Barrister-at-Law Sandrea Maynard supported the team as Online International Learning Moderator.

Dr. Elliott and Phipps-Rufus forensically explored the legalities and potentials of community-based publishing and multicultural fashion. Both ‘sisters’ also discussed the increasing need and particular use of intellectual property law to protect or exclude others (including ‘insiders’) from appropriating indigenous cultural knowledge and intellectual property, in keeping with The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Article 31, Section 1).

According to co-ordinator of the Sisters-in-Law masterclass and CLS Postgraduate Course Director Terrence Wendell Brathwaite;

“While there were men capable of discussing the given theme, it was certainly a breath of fresh air for both male and female attendees to listen to and engage relaxingly with these intellectually acute ‘sisters’, as they rapped and brought their collective lego-cultural experiences to bear on the historical developments surrounding the matter in question."

DOIN' IT FOR THEMSELVES: From left - Tania Phipps-Rufus, solicitor and intellectual property law expert and Sandrea Maynard, Barrister-at-Law

Through the skilful support of Faculty E-Learning Manager Amanda Black, the event was also streamed live as an Online International Learning (OIL) endeavour to CLS Partner Institution the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine (Republic of Trinidad & Tobago), where the Q&A was moderated by Dr. Justin Koo, an Intellectual Property Law specialist in the UWI Faculty of Law .

One of the gratified attendees was Ijeoma Ononogbu, a solicitor and arbitrator at Hogan Lovells LLP Birmingham. She testified:

“I definitely gained quite a lot from the seminar.

"Most importantly, I related very well with the construct of cultural appropriation. I have seen a couple of clothing ‘ankara’ - a predominantly Igbo clothing material -being used by British designers to make outfits, and sold at Selfridges London at exorbitant prices. The clothing design has not been duly acknowledged by the British designers, and this is cultural appropriation. At the same time, I know of an Igbo designer who struggles to market the same clothing of ‘ankara’ in big malls in London.

"It is satisfactory to use and more important to pay homage to clothe artistry of the Igbos, whose designs are being used. Moreover, it is crucial that there is an acknowledgment of the artistry origins.

"Mostly, everyone should be given a fair and open platform to operate.

"On the other hand, there is also a gradual and rightful shift in cultural approbation of some Nigerian food. One good example is the Nigeria food ‘suya’ - roasted beef or chicken, which was showcased recently by Jamie Oliver. Jamie made the food delicacy ‘jollof rice’ and ‘suya’ where he duly acknowledged the food was of Nigerian origin. That is a proper acknowledgement of the origins of the food.

"As an African, I hope that all forms of cultural appropriation should be dealt with accordingly.

"Also as a lawyer, I see where cultural appropriation does come within the infringement of intellectual property law, under the category trade mark rights, and to some degree passing off a provision by law which protects the goodwill of the owner from theft and misrepresentation.

"I have attended many seminars in other universities in the UK, from LSE to SOAS. However, the Coventry Law School Masterclass programme stood out, because the audience and speakers were able to share freely how the world could change for the better through our cross-cultural knowledge and willingness to learn.

"Interestingly, the audience yearned for more discussions. But unfortunately, the seminar had to end. I certainly look forward to the next Coventry Law School event.”

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