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Cherie Blair: I want to see women achieve full equality before I die

By Catriona Davies, for CNN
updated 5:27 AM EDT, Tue April 23, 2013
Cherie Blair attends the worldwide premier of Larry Crowne at the Westfield Shopping Center in London on June 6, 2011.
Cherie Blair attends the worldwide premier of Larry Crowne at the Westfield Shopping Center in London on June 6, 2011.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cherie Blair, wife of former UK PM Tony Blair, is a leading barrister in Britain
  • An advocate for women's rights, she started the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women
  • Blair tells CNN about her route to success and juggling her legal and charity work

Leading Women connects you to extraordinary women of our time -- remarkable professionals who have made it to the top in all areas of business, the arts, sport, culture, science and more.

London, England (CNN) -- Cherie Blair, the UK's former first lady, is a leading barrister who holds the senior advocate status of Queen's Counsel. In 2008, she founded the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, where she devotes herself to supporting female entrepreneurs in Africa, South Asia & the Middle East.

She spoke with CNN's Leading Women team about her commitment to eradicating injustice for women, her rise from a working-class family and how she balances her charity work with her professional life.

CNN: What achievement are you most proud of?

Cherie Blair fights for girls' education

Cherie Blair: Like every mother, it's my children, that's the first thing that makes me really proud. For my own part, it would be when I became a Queen's Counsel in 1995. I was the 76th woman ever to become a Queen's Counsel, so it was still a pretty rare thing.

Empowering women around the world

Read: Blair, Gates, Amanpour: Things I wish I'd known at 15

CNN: What cause are you most passionate about?

CB: The thing I want to see before I die is women achieving full equality in the world. I'm very passionate about injustice against women and there's too much of it in the world. In so many parts of the world, women are not regarded as worthy or equal to men. In parts of the world women are bought and sold. We think that's just in the developing world, but women are bought and sold in our country, too.

CNN: Who are you most inspired by?

CB: My first inspiration was my own mother, who left school at 14 and started a career as an actress. Then my sister and I came along and my father abandoned her and she had to really pull herself up by the boot straps and work hard to support my sister and I. She was determined to make sure we got all the opportunities that she had been denied.

"The thing I want to see before I die is women achieving full equality in the world.
Cherie Blair

CNN: How do you find the balance between your work as a barrister and your charity foundation?

CB: It's always a difficult balance. There isn't a time or day when I don't think about both legal work and the Foundation.

I've just come back from Nigeria where I was doing a legal presentation and at the same time I was also doing something with our projects in Nigeria.

I'm very lucky that as a barrister I'm self-employed, so everything I do is on a project basis. I do this case and then another case, which allows me to mix and match. In theory that sounds very well planned and balanced, but in practice it's a little bit more chaotic and overlapping.

If I'm doing a particular legal case, I have to concentrate on that, but I'm lucky that the Foundation has a fantastic CEO and 17 employees, so they are working on it day in, day out. I'm very lucky to be able to add to the fruits of their labor.

Read: Your top-flight lawyer? She's a stay-at-home mom

"I'm very passionate about injustice against women and there's too much of it in the world.
Cherie Blair

CNN: How do you decide which causes to get involved with?

CB: Sometimes my friends would tell me I'm very bad at saying no. These days I completely understand one has to have a focus and that's around women and girls, but that, of course, encompasses so many things.

I'm Chancellor of the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, which is very much an education project.

My own Foundation concentrates on women's economic empowerment on the basis that if women have their own money and are able to support themselves they can make choices about what happens to them in their lives, about whether they have education, whether they get married and what happens to their children.

If they don't have financial independence and the means to support themselves, it's much more difficult for them to say no when people make them do things they don't want to do.

Tara Kelly and Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this piece for CNN.

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