#PressforProgress: Alja Poler De Zwart

Alja Poler De Zwart is of counsel in our Brussels office. Her clients appreciate her determined and no-nonsense approach to resolving complex legal issues efficiently while providing strong representation for her clients’ most important privacy, data security, and e-commerce matters.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

It feels like it has been Women’s Day every day for the past six months thanks to the #MeToo movement.

Women’s Day on March 8 is a good opportunity to take stock of where women are, what has been achieved to date, and what still needs to be done. There is a lot that still needs to happen, from eliminating sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, to eliminating the gender pay gap.

As a side note, I grew up in Slovenia (then Yugoslavia) where March 8 was one of the biggest holidays of the year. Festive celebrations were held all over the country, with flowers and little presents given to mothers, sisters, female colleagues, and teachers. The female Partisans (soldiers in World War II) were many times a central theme on such occasions. I remember ceremonies at my school that opened with a minute of silence in honor of all fallen female Partisans, while the principal reminded the audience of the heroic deeds of all women during World War II.

I have fond memories of the celebrations because our teachers and parents made a point of teaching us from a young age that women are just as important and equal to men in every way.

Describe a way that you’ve seen a colleague at MoFo press for progress.

I read somewhere that young women need female role models to inspire success, and this is where Miriam Wugmeister, chair of the firm’s Global Privacy & Data Security Group, plays an important role.

Miriam tirelessly serves as a great example for all female associates as to what you can do with hard work and dedication. She supports us with the constant reminder that nothing can be out of reach, no matter who you are or where you come from. She continuously helps others at the firm achieve their goals by offering advice and hard-earned experience without asking for anything in return.

When it comes to inspiring young people about what they can achieve for themselves, honesty about your own triumphs and failures usually works best, and this is exactly where Miriam excels. Miriam does not need to do this, considering she has more than enough on her plate, so her dedication inspires us all.

What woman most inspires you, and why?

I have been following Iranian protests closely. My thoughts keep returning to a young woman who was filmed flying her hijab as a white flag last December in an act of disobedience against obligatory head covering. The footage was widely shared throughout social media; unfortunately, the woman has allegedly been reported missing since then. Many other women have been following her example, despite the fact that they can be arrested or worse. What these women are doing is pure courage to me. Could I do the same if I were in their shoes? I honestly do not know. Could you?

When thinking about inspiration, it is hard not to think about Irena Sendlerowa, a Polish social worker who saved about 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the Nazi death camps. She smuggled these children out of the Warsaw ghetto by hiding them in ambulances, suitcases, and boxes, or getting them out through the sewer pipes and underground passageways. In a 2007 interview, the 95-year old said: “The term ‘hero’ irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little.

I think no further comment is necessary, as her words speak for themselves.