The Commitments

Women who chose to stay and fight

Words by Fatima Bhutto and Shauneen Lambe
Photography by Laurence Ellis
Styling by Raphael Hirsch

Fatima Bhutto’s writing– her new novel, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, and 2010 memoir Songs of Blood and Sword, as well as her journalism – displays a political commitment whose strength is matched only by her insistence that she would never enter politics herself. A member of one of the world’s best known dynasties, her life marked by the assassinations of her father and uncle, and later that of her estranged aunt, Benazir Bhutto, she is unintimidated by controversy. In her memoir she combined the story of her father’s life with a sophisticated account of her country’s complex history. The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, set in Waziristan, by the Afghan border, is a beautifully written and moving novel whose political convictions are as fully realised as its characters: with its strong sense of the damage wrought on ordinary lives by US and Pakistani machinations and by generations of atrocities, it tells the story of two women and three men caught between the few choices open to them in the place they come from – leave, stay and keep your head down, or stay and fight. Bhutto, who has also published poetry and a collection of survivors’ first-hand accounts of the 2005 earthquake, lives in Pakistan. 

Where Shauneen Lambe sees vast,intersecting social problems and injustices so deeply rooted that change seems near impossible, she sets to work. On completing her legal training, she was the only student in her cohort not to apply for a permanent job at the law firm; instead, she went to the US, setting up a programme to help Louisiana public defenders (often frighteningly underprepared) save their young clients from the death penalty. Lambe spent several years working on these cases and helped Clive Stafford Smith set up Reprieve, on whose board she served until 2006, the year she founded her own organisation, Just For Kids Law. Since then she has dedicated herself to the task of altering the whole relationship between young people and the UK criminal justice system, from advocating for legislative reform and setting new legal precedents to training lawyers to help with the much broader areas – housing and education, among many others – in which children are held back or criminalised. In 2013, she and her colleagues achieved a significant change in the law, with a High Court ruling that ensured 17-year-olds in police custody can no longer be treated as adults. Lambe’s is a radically different approach to defending and representing children, both in court and outside it, combining a more empathetic stance on each case with a strategic approach to tackling structural, political obstacles.


 Women _1
"There’s Western feminism, Western secularism and Western democracy, and unless we are their versions of things, it doesn’t count." –Fatima Bhutto (left), writer, wears a jacket and a skirt by Calvin Klein Collection.

"I’m a lawyer, but I don’t necessarily believe in the law." –Shauneen Lambe, founder of Just for Kids Law, right, wears a dress by Vivienne Westwood.

Women _2Left, Fatima wears a coat and a dress by MaxMara. Right, Shauneen wears a dress by Simone Rocha.

Women _3"You can no longer recuse yourself and say, well, I don’t want to think about politics. You have to think about it, because it’s how you live. It’s whether you open a tap and get water in the morning or not. Whether you can leave your house and feel safe is politics. Whether you live in a part of the country where if it rains, you get gastroenteritis and die. This is all politics now. So you can’t say, I don’t like to discuss it or think about it. That’s no longer an option. Because it’s this blinkered looking away that has brought us to this point: that people don’t want to engage in it, that they see it as an ugly idea, means that they’ve left the field perfectly open for five people to capture and hold." Fatima wears a dress by Christopher Kane.

"What we see in every case is that these kids feel completely outside society, they have no voice in it, no one  actually listens to them, the system just processes them through. And you know, that is why the riots happened. It’s why the kids form gangs: they feel no community anywhere else. What we can do is give them a voice. This week we were giving evidence in two parliamentary sessions, and we had three kids with us who’d been in prison, who’d been in the police station, and they’re giving evidence at these parliamentary enquiries and they are the most compelling witnesses. Afterwards, the ex-minister of justice was coming up to them, saying how great they were. They’ve always had interesting things to say, they just didn’t have a way of saying them. And they’ve suddenly got access into the places that make the decisions: if we can do that, then that’s amazing." Shauneen wears a top and a skirt by J.W. Anderson and shoes by Tod’s.

Women _3"The problem with parachuting in anywhere is that actually the people who do end up making the difference, who will always make the difference, are people who are there, who have an understanding, a link to the community, and who care what happens, beyond a yearly report. In these jails or in these neighbourhoods it is the local community that makes an impact, that comes in, that checks, that asks. Very rarely is it those who are paid to come in and do that kind of thing." Fatima wears a dress by Dries Van Noten.

"At the time, I really offended people by equating the riots with the Arab Spring. People said: “No, those people are politically motivated,” and I said: “But so are the young people here, it’s just you’ve never heard what they’ve got to say, and what they’ve got to say is they feel like complete outsiders.” Really high-powered historians and political professors wouldn’t hear anything about it." Shauneen wears a dress and shoes by Prada.

Women _5"Chris Grayling has said that we can no longer judicially review things. So the challenge we took this year will no longer be available next year. He thinks that the sanctity of parliament shouldn’t be challenged: they’re the elected officials and lawyers shouldn’t have the power to challenge that through the judicial system… We live in very conservative times and the oppression of the state terrifies me, it really does." On the left, Shauneen wears a top by Chanel. Right, she wears a jacket and a skirt by Marni, and shoes by Jimmy Choo.

Women _6"I think I will always be working for justice. Sometimes that gets pretty draining but I can’t help it, it fires my belly, and I love working with the kids, they continue to inspire me… Our motto is that James Baldwin quotation: “These are all our children; we will either profit or pay for whatever they become.” Every time I talk about this work, I think nothing says it more clearly than that – it’s our choice what kind of society we create." Shauneen wears a dress and shoes by Salvatore Ferragamo.

"Whenever I would go to the jails – and they don’t have anything, any budget, they survive on donations – I would say, what about these NGOs, aren’t there all these big organisations? And they would say, well, they come once a year and they sit with us for two hours and they ask us questions and they take down numbers – and then we don’t see them again till the next year. I think Hopgood is quite correct when he says that these big human rights groups are actually bankrupt, morally and effectively, but people don’t like that idea because they love to feel that I gave £4 to Human Rights Watch and I’ve saved a dying person… well, no, you haven’t." Fatima wears a top and a skirt by Jil Sander.

Women _7"It’s the same idea with everything, isn’t it? There’s Western feminism, Western secularism and Western democracy, and unless we are their versions of things, it doesn’t count. So it’s very difficult to understand a place like Pakistan, where women suffer tremendous injustice and where you have energy beating down on them from every angle, whether societal or political – yet they are very powerful figures, women. That’s unmanageable in the idea of Western feminism. Within societies, within families, women have a voice. It’s not a voice that’s given to them, they have to fight for it." Fatima wears a dress by Proenza Schouler. §

Fatima Bhutto’s The Shadow of the Crescent Moon is out now from Viking.

Hair: Kota Suizu at Caren using L’Oréal Professionnel
Make-up: Naoko Scintu at Saint Luke Artists
Styling assistants: Emma Simmonds and Julia Lurie
Photography assistants: Simon Bocker Morch, Sarah Louise Stedeford and Tom Ortiz
With thanks to Harriet Cauthery at Creative Blood