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Alumni Stories

Grads 2024: Baneen Fatima

Baneen Fatima was always interested in studying law, and knew she wanted to be a lawyer since she was a young girl living in Pakistan.

“Growing up in a society where there's a lot of injustice prompted me to question why certain people get access to justice and others do not – access to justice should be for all” she says.

The pathway to graduating with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) at UC and obtaining a graduate lawyer position has been a testament to Baneen’s dedication and resilience.

She moved to Canberra in 2013 with her mother, father and two younger brothers, fleeing the sectarian violence faced by Shia Muslims in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

“I completed Years 11 and 12 at Lake Tuggeranong College, but deciding what to do next was difficult to navigate due to having no certainty about where I would be living,” Baneen says.

“To pursue tertiary education meant that I would have been considered an international student and as a migrant family, we didn’t have the funds to support my way through a degree.

“I really wanted to study law, but it just felt like a dream and it seemed unachievable.”

Baneen decided that the only thing she could do was work until she had enough money saved to go to university and kept law firmly in her sights by working as a legal assistant in multiple law firms. In that time, she also completed a Certificate IV and a Diploma in Legal Services. Six years later, in 2020, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Laws at UC and continued to work full-time as a legal assistant, while also studying full-time.

“I never thought I would actually be able to do it because, you know, working and studying full-time is difficult. And it takes a lot of dedication and motivation, and a lot of days where you have to make the decision between sleeping or eating or showering,” she says.

“I have to give credit to both UC and my workplace for being supportive and flexible – I knew that I could attend a lecture or tutorial in the morning and start work later, or have the option to attend a lecture in the evening, and that made things more manageable.”

Despite the juggling act, Baneen says she enjoyed every aspect of her degree, describing herself as someone who “loves studying”.

“When I enrolled at UC and told my colleagues at the time, they asked, ‘How do you feel about your admission?’ And I told them I was excited,” she says.

“They laughed at me and said that feeling would go away, but it didn’t – it lasted right up until I finished my final semester!”

Baneen was recognised as a high achieving student and was given the opportunity to complete Honours in her final year of study. She says she found the process of completing her ‘Honours Law’ unit a lot more difficult than the rest of her degree.

“I had to develop my own structure, but fortunately working and studying full-time had given me amazing time management skills,” she says.

“Associate Professor Dr Cristy Clark was my supervisor, and she was incredibly patient with me. She helped keep me grounded and guided me through a very challenging topic. Dr Clark is passionate about climate justice and has been a huge inspiration.”

Baneen stresses her passion for universal human rights, and this is clear in her choice of thesis topic.

She worked with Dr Clark on a Doctrinal Honours project that examined the intersectionality between the right to self-determination and the right to water, giving her the opportunity to delve into the area of human rights law – something she feels very passionately about.

“I looked at two case studies: the first was Indigenous Australians, and then I also looked at the ongoing occupation of Palestine, not knowing what would end up happening in Gaza late last year, which has brought the issue of basic human rights – especially the right to water – more into the spotlight,” Baneen says.

“I picked this topic because I wanted to draw attention to the lack of awareness of the rights to water and self-determination, and to highlight how the lack of realisation of a human right impacts other human rights, therefore emphasising the importance of intersectionality.”

Reflecting on her graduation ceremony, Baneen says that having her family witness her conferral was an emotional moment.

“I feel like it’s a chance to ‘give back’ to my parents. They made a huge sacrifice to give us a better life. My father, especially, has always given me incredible guidance from a very early age when I was considering what to pursue in life, and I hope I make them proud,” she says.

“My husband was also there and my two younger brothers. The youngest is actually studying a Bachelor of Software Engineering and a Bachelor of Business Informatics at UC.”

Meeting her now-husband meant Baneen could apply for permanent residency in Australia, which was granted in 2023.

“I feel like I’m not living in limbo anymore, but my happiness will not be complete until my parents and brothers have the same security,” she says.

Baneen is very family-oriented, which is why she is happy to stay put and build on her seven years of working in Canberra-based law firms.

“I’m now working as a graduate lawyer in a national law firm, and I was fortunate to have been selected to work in my specific areas of interest, being workplace and administrative law,” she says.

“All those years working as a legal assistant has meant that I am comfortable in the legal space, and I feel confident using the systems and knowing the general terminology – it all feels very familiar, yet exciting at the same time.”

Words by Emma Larouche. Photos by Liam Budge.

This March, the University of Canberra congratulates the graduating class of 2024.

We are so glad to celebrate this milestone with you. You have overcome challenges with grace and resilience, and grown in remarkable ways.

Many of you are already making an impact in your chosen fields, and others have embarked on their postgraduate study path – we look forward to seeing what you achieve in these next steps in your amazing journeys.

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