From the Crown Prosecution Service to Oxfam – My first four weeks by Jaswant Narwal

So, I don’t ask myself why, after nearly 32 years of living, breathing and working in the world of criminal justice (as a prosecutor) in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), do I find myself at Oxfam as a Senior Equality and Gender Adviser. But I do question why I left it so long to undertake a secondment or a move to another organisation. Other than my two lots of six-month maternity leave over the years this will be my third period of absence (also for six months) from the CPS. 

But this time it is not as a young woman to welcome a new baby into the world but now as a more seasoned person, ready to share my experience of working life from the public sector with a charitable organisation and to take back learnings too. 

Feeling a bit afloat

Over four weeks in now, which has included having to contend with the disruption and frustration of my untimely house move, resulting in not having any Wi-Fi. I am still a little disorientated, trying to establish some kind of routine; wrongly yearning for more intense, highly pressurised, long-hours which I have previously known and loved. 

Working at that pace, making difficult decisions daily, dealing with sensitive casework matters that impact people’s lives, seeing the underbelly of society, the innocent and vulnerable being targeted – people at their worst and people at their best, was my life. The important thing was I felt, and knew, I was making a difference in the CPS. I’ve worked in nearly all parts of the organisation, in many different roles in different geographical regions, no day was ever the same, no case ever the same; I could never really anticipate what would land on my desk. 

My job entailed working with people, either as suspects/defendants or as victims or witnesses, or in communities and making decisions about lives and livelihoods. A challenging and at times emotionally draining job but one where I was able to get a real sense of job satisfaction when we got the right result for victims and witnesses, which was always such a privilege. I hope I can also make an impact at Oxfam, but expect it will be in a very different way from what I am used to.

A time of change

Oxfam has been in the headlines a lot recently and not always for the right reasons. It is an interesting time to join, as it has also gone through some difficult self-assessment and external scrutiny, resulting in a lot of change internally, in terms of governance, resources, projects and also its aims. Similarly, the CPS has also had its fair share of media focus, as well as internal organisational change. 

Even though I can see and feel the impact of this scrutiny, it has to be right that any organisation whether it is in the public, private or third sector is held to account for its actions. But I have been so impressed by the incredible people who work at Oxfam; their commitment, their passion and their unremitting dedication to want to make the right changes, to campaign, to educate, and influence for a better world - be it climate change, women’s empowerment, health and education, beating hunger, food distribution, access to better services or fighting the pandemic.

Understanding the landscape

I’ve gone through the induction phase, lots of mandatory and recommended training courses, lots of background reading, meeting key people, introducing myself to various teams, working to understand the landscape, the mechanics of Oxfam and working hard to get used to new acronyms, a new language and new meanings to words I thought I knew…. gender mainstreaming, gender equality, gender equity, gender-based violence, transformative change and a lot more.

Gender Justice is not just about full equality and equity between women, men and people of all other genders in all spheres of life but understanding the need for widespread changes in attitudes and beliefs, access to resources, legal recognition, public knowledge and more. 

The facts speak for themselves! 

  • 67% of girls amongst 80 million children globally, do not attend school 
  • Nearly 70% of illiterate people are women
  • Shockingly, domestic violence is the main cause of death or harm for women between ages 16-44 globally. 

An area I am too familiar with in my work as a prosecutor and something we have worked tirelessly to address but sadly has increased through the pandemic.

I am also surprised by how I did not really appreciate the way in which gender justice is central to ending global poverty and its causes. My superficial knowledge has been enhanced deeply by understanding the impact of land rights, systems of patriarchy; inequitable structures that sustain power imbalances and thereby maintain the status quo. I have so much more to understand and learn about Oxfam’s development and humanitarian work and how campaigning, influencing and its advocacy drive its mission.

Starting the journey

Diversity and inclusion has always been a big part of my life. I have lived with it both good and bad and championed it always, from my own life and career experiences. It has been fundamental to my own successes and failures. 

So, I am pleased to be working with Oxfam as it aims to be anti-racist, to decolonise its practices especially in light of it being a global organisation, and to start by looking internally and prioritising inclusion and people in its policies and practices through its new Equalities Strategy which I saw being launched in my first few weeks. 

I’ve had the chance in these early weeks to speak to both staff members and chief officers about their take on diversity. I also had a really interesting chat with Oxfam’s CEO Danny Sriskandarajah, when I asked him about why diversity and inclusion mattered to him. Inspired by our conversation he very graciously did a video message to all his staff to set out his vision, wanting Oxfam to be as diverse and as representative as it could be. It really mattered to Danny who Oxfam are, how we behave with each other and what impact we are going to make in the world. The commitment is certainly there, and Oxfam has started that journey.

Championing justice

But despite the move, all of the changes and feeling that I am, at times, in a different world, I do see that I have gone from doing justice in one sector of life to doing justice in another. 

In the CPS, as a national organisation making decisions independently of the police and government our duty is to make sure the right person is prosecuted for the right offence and to bring offenders to justice wherever possible. In Oxfam as a global organisation, we are working to end the injustice of poverty, helping people to build better lives for themselves and holding the powerful to account. 

New opportunities

It’s an exciting time, there are opportunities to be had, lots of learning, lots of knowledge and experience sharing across sectors. It’s a great opportunity for which I am appreciative, and I am truly grateful to Lydia Garrett at WIG for supporting me so well and for making this happen, as it’s a first for the CPS. 

Whatever type of organisation any of us works for or will work for, the quote from Liz Fosslien will always ring true. 

‘DIVERSITY is having a seat at the table, INCLUSION is having a voice and BELONGING is having that voice be heard.’

We offer opportunities for hands-on experience in another sector through our various secondment schemes.