Impact of Law and Culture on Each Other

by Elham Sadri

As far as I remember, I was always interested in philosophy and reasoning. Particularly, I loved to figure out the logical connection between culture and the existing rules governing the society. During the high school time in Iran, I understood how making progressive rules could positively influence the culture of the society whereas retrogressive rules could adversely affect the culture of people. For instance, before the Islamic revolution, there was a significant controversy when women were given the rights to divorce in 1975 and to vote/to be elected in 1963[i]. On the surface, these rules seemed to be advanced. However, since the society was not ready to admit these rules, they were overturned after only four years of being exercised. I was asking myself whether giving more rights to women could improve the culture of the society. In fact, despite the strong protest against these rules, these rules enabled the society to raise cultural awareness to comply with the new rule. After Iran’s revolution, (1979), some of these rules were vacated, and replaced by more regressive rules limiting the freedom of women[ii]. Another example was the impact of new rules which were passed to prohibit the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM[iii]) in some countries such as Egypt. Practicing these rules raised the social awareness and decreased the number of victims of this act. However, when these rules were vacated after Arab spring, the practice of FGM started arising again in despite of all educations were made by the United Nations in these countries.

Law school was the place where I could satisfy my curiosity about the reciprocal impact of policymaking and cultural matters. It was where I got the answer to some of my questions. The LLM program in Dickinson School of Law at Penn State taught me the way of analytical thinking through the discussions with my colleagues. During my time at law school, I was honored to be involved in research carried out in the “Clinique for Immigrants’ Right” under the supervision of Professor Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia. By performing research on immigration remedies for noncitizen victim of domestic violence, I found deeper layers of abuse and discrimination in cases involving family abuse and immigration. In most cases, clients were married with United States Citizen or Legal Permanent Residence. Some of them were not even aware of the fact that they were being abused in their relationships. I learned how these women without citizenship might suffer additional challenges due to their visa status (typically dependent visa holders). These clients must make the most challenging decision in their life. In most cases when they become aware of potential legal protections in the legal system in their host country, they have hard time to overcome their cultural barriers to exercise these rights that have been given to them by American legal system. 

I encounter situations where victims of FGM had been protected in the United States under Asylum law. As a result of this research project, a toolkit was published for a local women’s resource center about immigration remedies for noncitizen victims of domestic violence. I learned that legal remedies for victims of domestic violence were much more enhanced compared to my home country. This research project motivated me to find the possible ways by which I could inform Iranian community about these remedies.

Working in the Center for Immigrants Rights, for the Centre County Women’s Resource Center (CCWRC) was one of the brightest experiences I have ever had. After reviewing the available resources in Farsi, I found that there exists no information about the domestic violence remedies for an immigrant. So, I decided to translate the materials that I had learned in the CCWRC project and outreached the Iranian community about these remedies available for immigrants who were victims of abuse. I also interviewed with Iranian Media in the USA to broadcast these remedies for the Iranian-American community. Fortunately, these attempts received significant attention among the women rights activist.

I am truly happy to see Iranian parliaments is now reviewing a new set of rules to support victims of domestic violence[iv]. Recently, domestic violence is being defined as a crime, meaning Iranian justice system can oversee punishing the people who committed these crimes. Besides, Iran is getting ready to establish more non-profit organizations to help and support victims and survivors of domestic violence. Women have to fight to earn their rights in some countries. However, an immigrant woman is still dealing with the cultural impact of her home country even in her current residence in the USA. However, cultural barriers remain with these women preventing them from exercising their rights and thus to have the safety they deserve.

Now, I am working as an associate attorney in a full-service immigration law firm in San Francisco, CA after passing New York bar exam. I am representing clients in their employment, family-based cases as well as removal proceedings. That always has been my mission to raise awareness about specifics of these rights and remedies for immigrant women who might have to choose not to exercise their right due to their cultural believes.  


[i] Gender Inequality and Discrimination: The Case of Iranian Women, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (Mar. 8, 2013),

[ii] Gender Inequality and Discrimination: The Case of Iranian Women, Iran Human Rights Documentation Center (Mar. 8, 2013),

[iii] The cutting or removing of some or all of the external female genitalia.

[iv] Judiciary Official Proposes New Proposal Against Domestic Violence, Center for Human Rights in Iran (Aug. 28, 2017),


Citation: Elham Sadri, Impact of Law and Culture on Each Other, in Back Into the Future of Immigration: Personal Stories by the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants' Rights Clinic (Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia ed., 2018).

Elham Sadri

Elham Sadri is an immigration lawyer in San Francisco, California, Attorney Sadri leverages her diverse background to serve the community. She is also a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and Iranian-American Bar Association (IABA). She is the author of a book in Farsi about American legal education system. Elham actively advocated for women rights in Iran and United States by publishing papers and outreaching through media to educate Iranian women with their rights.

Class of 2012
Elham Sadri