Women in the Legal Profession

By | October 28, 2021
Women in the Legal Profession

Last Updated on by Admin LB

This article titled ‘Women in the Legal Profession’ is written by Akriti Raina and discusses the representation of women in the legal profession.

I. Introduction

Justice N. V. Ramana remarked that women should demand 50% reservation in the judiciary as a matter of right.[1] But what prompted the head of the institution to make such a compelling statement? Indeed, the apathy of the legal profession and legal fraternity to the woes of women working in the field of law and a low representation of women in the legal profession.

There are several provisions in the constitution of India, that provide for affirmative action in favour of traditionally disadvantaged sections of society. On one hand, Article 14 provides for the right of equality and on the other, Article 15(3) of the Constitution of India lays down the provision for protective discrimination in favour of women and children:

“(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.”

These articles instead of being in conflict with each other were enacted with the broader goal of achieving a level playing field for all and creating equality in its true sense.

While the problem of inadequate representation of women is not unique to the legal sphere, yet, it is ironic that the courts and chambers of justice that uphold the holy constitution have themselves failed to ensure this equality in representation and make the legal profession a level playing field for all genders.

II. History of women in the Legal Profession

The history of the struggle of women towards gender equality in the legal sphere began with the Regina Guha case. Regina completed her law degree in 1916 and applied to be enrolled as a pleader but was not allowed to do the same as women back then were not allowed to practice in the courts. The Allahabad High Court in 1921, allowed Cornelia Sorabji to enrol as a pleader. This was seen as a major reform towards providing equality to women on the legal front.[2]

In the Sudhanshu Bala Hazra case, initiated in the Patna High Court, the woman applied to be enrolled as a pleader in the Patna High Court but was denied the right to practice. Even though Sorabji was allowed to do the same, the court nevertheless did not consider it fit to allow women to practice litigation as the then standing Legal Practitioners’ Act, 1879 (Act XVIII of 1879) did not include women within the ambit of “persons”.

As a result of the prevalent discrimination against women and the need to ensure adequate representation of women in the legal profession, the Legal Practitioners (Women) Act was passed in 1923.

It held that “no woman shall, by reason only of her sex, be disqualified from being admitted or enrolled as a legal practitioner or from practising as such.”[3]

The Supreme Court of India was established in 1950, yet it took 39 years to appoint Justice Fathima Beevi [4]as the judge of the Supreme Court. Ten women have had the opportunity to succeed her and currently, there are only four sitting women judges in the Supreme Court of India. Meanwhile, not even one woman has made it to the post of Chief Justice of India.

There have been visible changes when it comes to gender representation when it comes to the lower judiciary, yet the gap is visible when one moves upward in the hierarchy.

Have things completely changed for women in this traditionally male-dominant field? There surely have been positive changes yet, there is still a dearth of women practitioners, law students and judges in the judicial system of India.

III. Challenges faced by women in the Legal Profession

In a recent talk show “Legit Affairs with Mayank Shekhar”, Ms Aishwarya Bhati, Additional Solicitor General of India discussed her own journey in the field of law. She shed light on the issues faced by women in litigation and other legal professions.

Women have been traditionally seen as home-makers and are expected to devote their selves to the well being of the family unit, Ms. Bhati reflected on the same problem. According to her, the professional aspect of women’s life is not given as much importance as the domestic duties are. Goals related to career, jobs etc. are seen as co-curricular activities rather than something substantial in their lives. [5]

Making it into this profession requires dedication, hard work and patience but by the time one feels settled in the profession, especially young women, they are expected to settle down and are pressurized to get married. This is not the case for men who are given all the necessary support to focus on their careers.

The legal profession is a challenging field, with uncertain and long working shifts, lack of balance between social and work-life etc. women are often forced to focus on their domestic roles such as cooking for the family, caring for their children etc. and receive negligible support in their professional journey.

This difference is not taken into consideration by employers especially the private players and the profession leaves no space for any balancing of the two roles. There is also a disparity in payment of wages between men and women employees, with men being paid more for the same jobs than women.

Another problem faced by women in the legal profession is sexual harassment at the hands of their colleagues or seniors. Women may face anything from sexually coloured remarks to physical harassment. Since the abuser here is the one who knows the law inside-out, it is very much possible for women to feel threatened and never come out against such oppressors.

IV. What is the way forward?

There is a major need for change in attitude towards women in the legal profession. This not only includes encouragement by family but also a humanitarian approach towards the concerns and challenges faced by women by their peers at the professional level.

Law schools should begin by encouraging women to take up opportunities available in the legal profession and provide them career counselling and adequate guidance.

The work environment in Courts and law firms should be made safe for women by promoting gender awareness as well as ensuring that there are mechanisms in place for reporting cases of harassment or abuse.

Lastly, the voices of those women who have made their mark in the legal sphere are also important and efforts should be made to allow these women to act as mentors of the young aspirants.


References

[1] ‘Women of the world unite’: CJI Ramana backs demand for 50% reservation for women in judiciary https://www.indiatoday.in/law/story/cji-nv-ramana-calls-for-50-per-cent-reservation-for-women-in-judiciary-1857433-2021-09-26

[2] The Indian Women Who Fought Their Way Into The Legal Profession https://thewire.in/law/women-lawyers-history-india

[3] Ibid

[4] Eshanee Bhattacharya, Justice Fathima Beevi: From the Bench of India’s First Woman Judge in The Supreme Court of India https://www.legalbites.in/justice-fathima-beevi/

[5] Legit Affairs with Mayank Shekhar | E-02 | Ft. Ms. Aishwarya Bhati, Addl. Solicitor General of India https://youtu.be/dxMcBzLNm6c


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Author: Akriti Raina

Akriti is a student at the Faculty of Law, Delhi University. Her areas of interest are labour law, industrial relations, ADR mechanisms and women rights.

One thought on “Women in the Legal Profession

  1. Aishwarya

    This article takes a sharp look at the current and past situation of women in legal professional. I think before the whole society, women should come forward for women and help each other. If women do this, then women will automatically come forward in any field including this legal professional field.

    Reply

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