Law
Zamira Saidi on UC's campus.

Fearless Pursuit

Zamira Saidi's pursuit of justice fuels her curiosity and desire to learn more. Growing up in Afghanistan and moving to the U.K. before heading to Cincinnati, she's just getting started.

Nestled away in the mountains, the village Khost in the Baghlan Province of Afghanistan is where Zamira Saidi (LLM ‘19, JD ‘22) began her education journey.

Her family fled to Khost during the Taliban uprising in the 1990s, along with other families trying to escape Taliban rule. At the time, there was no school for girls in the village. Believing in education for their daughters, her parents, along with other transplants, started the first school for girls in the village.

“I was among those girls going to that very, very first class in my village,” Zamira said. “Every year the school got bigger and bigger, it expanded and more girls were going to school. Now we have a female school in that village.”

From a young age, Zamira was already dreaming of a path that would involve a higher education and a career, but she wasn't sure how she would achieve these goals. Living in a conflict zone, her rights were limited, messages in society told her it wasn't possible, and opportunities available were different for boys and girls. Her thoughts often turned towards anger and hopelessness.

“In my little childhood pictures, I was always mad,” she said. “Gender discrimination was casually part of our daily life. Everything could be taken from you as a woman, your chance at a career, your ability to leave a bad relationship, even keeping your own kids. I genuinely thought this is how it was all over the world.”

Moving around for her father’s work changed Zamira’s perspective. She began to see alternative possibilities outside of the traditional roles women had in villages—and she began to read and educate herself on women’s rights.

Zamira's Story

Video link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/gqok3go5Rjk?rel=0

“I came to realize that a big problem behind women’s suppression is the fact that the majority of women don’t have access to education when they are young. So they have to rely on their husbands,” she said. “If they have daughters, they will raise them the same way that they were brought up. It’s a cycle.”

Zamira Saidi walking through UC's campus

Working towards stopping that cycle was motivating for Zamira. After earning a law degree at Kabul University, she founded an NGO with a group of volunteers that advocated for gender equality and human rights.

While this work at home was fulfilling her dreams of advocating for the women in her country, she knew her work would be strengthened if she could explore how the law worked in other countries and in different legal jurisdictions.

“I knew for sure that I didn’t have investments or money or that I could afford studying in a foreign country,” she said. So she decided to apply for several prestigious foreign scholarships. At the time, a professor at the time discouraged her from applying abroad, claiming it would be too competitive and she would have a greater chance of success in her own country.

“I have been in that situation several times, where people either gave me the impression or directly told me that I can’t do this or that,” she said. She applied anyway and received four scholarship offers.

First, she accepted a Chevening Scholarship where she completed her first LLM at Brunel University in London on International Intellectual Property Law. Then, Zamira came to the University of Cincinnati College of Law on a Fulbright Fellowship.

“I didn’t know where Cincinnati was, so I had a little doubt,” she said. “But after I came here, it was perfect. Staff members do a lot to help international students get familiar with how things work here, with accommodations, taking them on a tour around the city, and asking if we are experiencing troubles or feeling alone.”

She was completing her LLM on the US legal system at Cincinnati Law when COVID hit. With travel bans in place, and increasing security issues in Afghanistan, Zamira wasn’t sure what to do. Her original plans to practice intellectual property law internationally while working to improve international relations in Afghanistan and raise awareness for women’s rights were put on hold. That’s when Nora Burke Wagner, Assistant Dean for International & Graduate Programs at Cincinnati Law, advised her to take advantage of the College's LLM to JD transfer program,.

“When I review my life and I see how one event was leading to another, it makes me think that every single step matters, every little opportunity counts.”


- Zamira Saidi -

“When I got the email it was very unbelievable and surprising. ‘Congratulations, you are accepted to the JD program and you have been granted a scholarship.’ I remember I sent them an email back asking if someone mistakenly hit the button, or if it’s a prank, or if it's actually happening. I am very grateful that it was real.”

Zamira Saidi in UC College of Law Library.

Zamira plans to take the Bar in 2022. The community feel at the University of Cincinnati College Law helped her know even more clearly who she is and why she is practicing law. She said she has been offered a variety of practical opportunities to prepare her through clinics, externships, and fellowships.

This past summer, Zamira held both an internship with the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC) at UC, and an externship with Magistrate Judge Karen Litkovitz (Law '84).

“I was excited for both everyday because there was something new that I faced and something new that I learned,” she said. “They both kept me pretty happy with life over the summer. I think that's a really big deal."

Soon after the summer ended and her third year began, the Taliban regained control over Afghanistan. Zamira said it has been difficult to remain focused during one of the most important years in her law school journey. She is trying to remain optimistic, and is pouring her energy into advocating and raising awareness for gender and human rights. Her plan after taking the Bar is to start her own practice of law, and continue raising awareness and advocating for gender equality wherever she is.

"When I review my life and I see how one event was leading to another, it makes me think that every single step matters, every little opportunity counts,” she said. “I don’t know where the JD program will lead me next. But I am hoping that it will be another good opportunity coming next, to see what impact I can make.”

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