Targets in the Legal Profession
On 10 January, Law Society President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff recommended the introduction of gender targets and embedding flexible-working practices in corporate culture, in order to improve gender diversity across the legal profession. Only 23.5 per cent of all partners and 9.4 per cent of all equity partners across the UK’s largest 100 law firms by revenue are women. Firms including Ashurst, Eversheds and Hogan Lovells have already introduced targets for the number of women in high-level positions.
Discriminatory issues pervade society to such an extent that the response to eliminating their place in the professional workplace must do justice to this in its gravity and foresight. Such a long-term issue must be addressed and eliminated by adopting a long-term, organic response. Targets are something which would be the opposite of just that. While many can appreciate the detrimental significance of gender positive quotas in the professional arena, the prospect of targets is seemingly attractive as it does not dictate, merely suggest how such quotas could be filled. Therefore, while the difference between the two may be an attractive one, I would argue it is superficial and results with the same objective-placing pressure on the workplace to hire more women. The cause for gender equality will be seriously diminished if women’s rise to the top of the profession is facilitated by targets or quotas. Instead, women’s progression towards the most prestigious positions in the legal profession must have its genesis in an organic kind of growth, which is motivated by changes to the structure and environment of the workplace itself, rather than its gender makeup. This would address the primary factor which informs gender biases – particularly in the legal profession – of having an ‘old boys’ club’, and work related social functions taking place outside of working hours. The entire attitude towards working time and the work-life agenda needs to be readdressed and recalibrated in order to achieve true equality. Targets would provide a short-term fix to a long-term issue.
Effects of the Recession on Women
A report by Plan International and the Overseas Development Institute reveals that women and girls were the hardest hit by the global recession. The children’s rights and development organisations involved hope to attract the attention of political and economic leaders such as the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The report revealed that girls and women would often eat less to ensure there was enough for main breadwinner of the household, and that some were being put to work as labourers and sex workers. The report further shows that since the economic downturn there has been an increase in infant mortality; an increase in neglect and abuse; a 29% fall in primary school completion compared with a 22% fall for boys; an increase in child marriages; and increased risk of death during pregnancy for girls between the ages of 14 and 19. Plan International blames long standing economic trends, entrenched gender inequality, and austerity budgets for the findings.
Plan Chief Executive Officer Nigel Chapman claims that ‘more targeted support in social protection, job creation and education’ is necessary to reduce the impact of the economic downturn on girls.
Rape Incident in India
The issue of women’s rights in India was reignited last month by the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old female student in Delhi.
The woman and a male friend had been to the cinema when they boarded a bus to return home. On board they were attacked by six men who beat them with iron bars, raped the woman and then threw them out of the moving bus into the street. The woman sustained massive internal injuries and was subsequently flown to a hospital in Singapore to receive specialist treatment. She later died as a result of her injuries.
The trial of the five men has begun at a specially convened fast-track court in India’s capital, Delhi. The charge sheet was read by the judge earlier this month and the trial will resume on Thursday when opening arguments will be heard. If convicted, the men could face the death penalty. The sixth suspect, who is 17-years-old, is expected to be tried separately in a juvenile court.
The death of the young woman has led to nationwide protests against the treatment of women in India. Protestors have called for changes to the laws on violence against women. Delhi officials have responded to public anger by increasing police night patrols, checking on bus drivers and their assistants and by banning buses with tinted windows or curtains.
Women’s Rights in Iran
A Bill currently in the Iranian Parliament is seeking to make it necessary for single Iranian women to require the permission of their fathers before they are allowed to leave the country.
Currently, unmarried women over the age of 18 are able to leave Iran without permission, but this proposed change in the law would stop this. Married women in Iran have been required to gain their husband’s permission to possess a passport, and it is within a husband’s power to ban his wife from leaving the country. This law dates back to before the 1979 Islamic revolution, and the proposed Bill would also enforce this.
Currently divorced women are free to have a passport and leave the country, but this would also be limited under the proposed Bill to needing their father’s permission.
If this Bill is passed, it will be seen as a major setback to women’s rights campaigners who have been campaigning since the 1979 Islamic revolution to have the law requiring a husband’s permission to be abolished. If this style of law is extended to unmarried women, women in Iran will be effectively held as prisoners in their own country.