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Leader with Team Spirit

Anna Pingen, who is pursuing a PhD in law, has been elected chair of the association Anwältinnen ohne Grenzen (Lawyer Women Without Frontiers)

Freiburg, Aug 30, 2018

Leader with Team Spirit

Photo: Klaus Polkowski

Anna Pingen is 25 years old and is pursuing a PhD in law. To be so young and a doctoral candidate is especially remarkable if we consider that the doctorate program in law has a very high minimal grade requirement, and only the best and brightest qualify. As if that wasn’t already impressive, Pingen, who is both German and French, was elected chair of the association Anwältinnen ohne Grenzen (Lawyer Women Without Frontiers) (AOG), which is located in Freiburg, in June 2018. In her new position, she plans to focus on a new area in the future.

Anna Pingen is a German-French PhD student who is familiar with the legal system on both sides of the Rhine. Photo: Klaus Polkowski

“When a student colleague first introduced me to Anwältinnen ohne Grenzen in the spring of 2017, it immediately appealed to me,” remembers Pingen. By that time, she had already gained experience working in a refugee center in France, where she earned her master’s degree. “Many things really got under my skin there, like how women suffer after rape during war. When I found AOG, I immediately realized that I could be useful there.” Pingen soon became active in the association, holding a lecture about the differences between the laws in France and Germany concerning the recognition of gender-specific violence as grounds for asylum. Because she is a graduate of the French education system – her family moved to Toulouse after she spent her childhood in the German town of Riesa, Saxony – she knows the legal systems on both sides of the Rhine.

In June this year, Pingen became the head of the executive board of AOG, which consists of eight people. She refuses to be singled out, however. When suggested that this is a little like soccer players stressing that they are just part of a team, she laughs and says, “I may be the captain of the team, but it’s a collective effort. We’re a very young executive board at the moment.” Of course, all board members are women, as the name indicates.

New Focus on Women in Africa

Pingen took over from the German-Bosnian jurist and women’s right advocate Jasmina Prpić, who founded the association in 2007 and is now 64 years old. The two women belong to different generations and share an age gap of almost 40 years. When asked if she plans to do things differently than her predecessor, Pingen says, “Naturally, we’ll build on the superb work of our predecessors.” The team plans to expand AOG’s network of jurists and will continue to host international conferences every two years. “That having been said, we want to focus on a new issue in our association for the next few years, which is the situation of women in Africa. We also have several smaller projects in mind, such as collaborating with Südwind e.V. on a series of events for refugee women.”

Pingen does not regard herself as a front woman or as a mover and shaker. She’s more modest about her role: “I pass things on and I act as a spokesperson to the outside world.” She therefore sees herself more as a coordinator who forwards inquiries, delegates tasks, and chairs the general meetings of members as well as board meetings, both of which take place once every month. “Of course it’s time-consuming, but it’s also fun and very interesting, so it’s not a problem. I still have time for my PhD thesis.”

When Has a Boundary Been Crossed?

The theme of Pingen’s PhD thesis, which she is working on at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law, is so-called motivational conflicts. “I invented this term myself. It’s about the question of ‘To what extent can instigating or inciting someone to commit a crime be punished?’” One example of this is hate speech against certain population groups. But how do we determine if a boundary has been crossed, and if this is grounds for prosecution? Due to the terrorist attacks in France, the French have a different and stricter approach to this issue than Germany, which focuses more on freedom of speech. According to a bill that was proposed in France in 2016, even regularly visiting propaganda sites on the Internet would have been punishable, she says.

Pingen believes it is important to talk to people from other countries about their perspectives on this issue, and she has interviewed her colleagues at the institute, who represent 30 different countries. “This is a luxury that makes things a lot easier,” she says. “Law is a discipline that thrives on the exchange of ideas.” Surely, no one can make a better case for this than Pingen.

Alexander Ochs