On Saturday, 4 March, I was privileged to be at a Festival celebrating International Women’s Day 2017. Organised by Doughty Street Chambers, the event was called, “What More Can the Law Do For Women?”. Unsurprisingly, the answer is a lot!
The roll call of speakers was impressive and their knowledge and delivery exceeded expectations. The 200-strong audience comprised lawyers, academics and students but was not limited to those interested in the law. Plus, I am pleased to say there were a number of men present – gender equality will benefit them too, after all!
One of the highlights of the day was listening to Dilys Cossey OBE, who was secretary of the Abortion Law Reform Association when the 1967 Abortion Act came into effect. Can you believe that was 50 years ago?! Since then, she’s continued to campaign for all sorts of other issues concerning reproductive rights and, although it was really disheartening to learn of the draconian abortion laws that still exist in parts of the UK, particularly our neighbours in Ireland and Northern Ireland. It was inspiring to listen to the amazing work being done by the lawyers at Doughty Street, amongst others.
I really enjoyed the section on gender discrimination in sport and to hear from Eniola Aluko – a Chelsea footballer who nearly became a tennis player instead because it was more socially acceptable – was really special. For those of you who don’t know, Eniola made history by being the first female footballer to appear on Match of the Day (in 2014).
Since 2017 marks 25 years since the United Nations Convention that set out the Recommendation on Violence Against Women, this was a topic that was high on the agenda. The marked improvements were applauded but there is still a lot to be done to combat violence against women – even here in the UK. Those trying to improve standards, such as lawyers and advocates, face many challenges within the system.
10 years ago, Baroness Corston published a review of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system calling for the scrapping of large prisons, which act as social dustbins for vulnerable women, amongst other things. Little has changed since that report and we listened to an eminent panel who highlighted the ongoing problem of women being placed in prisons far from their children and support networks, as well as the issue of transgender women being placed in male prisons. It’s distressing to hear that there have been three apparently self-inflicted deaths of trans prisoners in the past year.
However, for me, the best was left to last, when the fabulous Baroness Helena Kennedy chaired the Panel, “Women’s Voices; Getting Heard”. She’s the author of the brilliant Eve was Framed and if you’ve yet to read it, I suggest you buy a copy as soon as possible! Also on the panel was the wonderful Fatima Manji, News Correspondent with Channel 4 News, who spoke of the threats she has received on social media and the numerous accounts of women who are abused online and told to leave Twitter. They also discussed the question of whether women who are attacked on the street should stay at home and Baroness Kennedy spoke of how women are described as mouthy, shrill or difficult if they speak up.
The only time that the audience was disappointed was when we all learned that the day was at an end. There was a resounding groan from the floor, followed by a standing ovation. It was a great day.
International Women’s Day is on 8 March 2017 – how will you #BeBoldForChange? You can find more information and suggestions for points of action on the International Women’s Day website: www.internationalwomensday.com.