Gender Bias in the Legal Profession

Gender Bias in the Legal Profession


Introduction

Gender-Marry Appleby has correctly said that ‘Law has fundamentally been a male profession; women were welcome to join the bar so long as they recognize that it was define by men.’

A survey by ‘The Global Legal Post’ in the year 2012 found that out of nearly 400 senior advocates designated by our country’s Supreme Court since 1962 only 5 were women. It also reflects that litigation as a profession, is tailored to suit a man, and even today does not factor in a woman’s needs.

Under the garb of gender-neutral politics, a woman is forced to work the same hours as her male counterparts and not seek any ‘license or liberty’ because of her family. Women are scowled upon in litigation because of a stereotype created by our orthodox culture that women are primarily responsible for taking care of child only whereas the male is the ‘breadwinner’ of the family and is bound to be more earnest about his work.

Gender Bias in the Legal Profession

There is no greater inequality than the uniform treatment of unequal  

                                                                    –Justice Felix Frankfurter, Dennis v. the United States

Virtually in every society, gender is a fundamental aspect of human identity, and gender stereotypes influence behavior at often unconscious levels. All these work against women’s advancement in several respects, even among individuals and institutions fully committed to gender equality. 

Among the challenges faced by women, attempting to excel in courtrooms include the perceptions and behaviors of those in attorney positions of power. Because women, by and large, continue to have familial responsibilities as primary, she carries herself to be plagued by the perception that they may not be as committed to the practice as their male counterparts.

Women lawyers face hardship in earning respect from clients. Women are sometimes perceived as “aggressively” advocating, they may be seen as being overly aggressive by the men. This perception can make their male counterparts uncomfortable and thus unwilling to support their advancement.

Constitutional Backdrop

The incongruity in functioning can be argued legally as a form of discrimination, violating the Constitution that guarantees equality under the ‘Fundamental Rights’ in Articles 14, 15, and 16 under Part III. Laws like Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 and Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 attempt to address the existent systemic discrimination against women in employment, but fade to remove parities that exist with male counterparts in the pursuance of their career objectives. This is because though laws or legislations can ascertain change; reflect societal norms and movement, it cannot change mindsets. 

Women’s opportunities are limit by factors other than conscious prejudice. Major barriers include unconscious stereotypes, orthodox culture, inflexible workplace structures, sexual harassment, and bias. These barriers to women’s legal professionals are discuss below. 

Sexual Harassment faced by Women Lawyers

The word ‘sexual harassment’ means “a type of employment discrimination and sexism consisting of verbal or physical abuse of a sexual nature.” 

In Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan where guidelines against sexual harassment at work were lay down. It took the Legislature over a decade to contemplate Legislation to the effect. It has historically been a well-kept secret practice by men, tribulates by women, condone by management, and spoken by no one. Women are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment precisely because they lack power, are in a more vulnerable and insecure position, lack self-confidence, or have been socially conditioned to suffer in silence.

After the judgment in the Vishakha case and Apparel Export Promotion Council v. A. K. Chopra, women who are sexually harass at workplaces have an option other than quitting. The law has provided women with this recourse. 

On 15th June 2000 Sangeeta Sharma, a young lawyer practicing in Hyderabad committed suicide accusing three lawyers of being responsible for her depression in her suicide note, cause being sexual harassment. When a Women’s Collective in Hyderabad asked the Bar Council of Andhra Pradesh to amend the code of conduct of woman lawyers to specifically include sexual harassment within the definition of gross misconduct, and set up mechanisms for dealing with cases, according to the mechanism and modalities laid down by the Supreme Court.

Fifteen years after it laid down guidelines to protect women against sexual harassment at the workplace, women advocates appealed to the Supreme Court to examine implementing them at their workplace – the court premises.

Stereotyped at Work

“Women are not merely a ‘special interest’ class, but half the humanity.”

                                                                                                                        -Bella Abzeg 

To make sense of a complex social world, individuals rely on a variety of procedures and mechanisms to categorize information. One approach involves stereotypes, which associate certain socially defined characteristics with distinguishable groups.

Problems Caused by Prejudice

The force of traditional stereotypes is reinforced by other biases in decision-making. Society is more likely to notice and remember information that confirms prior assumptions than information that contradicts them. For example, attorneys who undertake that women are less commit tend to remember the instances they left early, not the nights that they stay behind late.

It is not requisite to point out that female attorneys often do not receive the same presumption of competence or allegiance as their male colleagues.

Problems Faced by Working Mothers 

Most working women express that the expectation that fathers will remain committed to their careers may sometimes give them greater leeway than mothers in seeking diffident accommodations for family needs. Their rendition is view as inversely proportionate to their performance or underperformance in their domestic sphere.

Work-life balance

Men tend to work with the knowledge that greater professional focus means visibility in the workplace and thus they have a more spontaneous approach towards work efficiency. They can afford to commit long work hours and put families on the back burner as they are release from domestic burdens with a woman at home ready to balance work-life for them. 

Women tend not to or cannot create an impression of open-end availability and therefore their commitment is question making them strive more to prove themselves time and time again about their efficiency and ambitions at each stage.

Infrastructure

The infrastructural facilities that a woman requires are very distinct from what men require. It is not the question of want; it is a question of need. A woman, especially pregnant women and new mothers need certain infrastructural facilities,. 

Sanitary Bathrooms

Still, most High Courts and lower courts have abysmal working conditions, especially concerning sanitation, making it impossible for women to negotiate the court halls.

More Facilities for Working Mothers

Women with children over one-year-old and who still want to work. Or restart their careers might not have supportive families. That can allow them to go to courts and leave their child home. Firms might give their women employees an acceptable option where they can bring their children to their place of work for a crèche or baby changing stations or a day-care center having breastfeeding rooms.

Conclusion

The Advocates Act, 1961 mandates the Bar Council of India. To safeguard the rights, privileges, and interests of lawyers under Section 7. It is by the virtue of this section that gender bias can be significantly resolve by accommodating measures such as maternity benefit schemes, mentorship programs, work-life balance and gender.

In furtherance of their statutory mandate, the BCI and State Bar Councils. Should take the following considerations to support the entry and growth of women in litigation

1. Furnish creche facilities in courtrooms and make them accessible to both women and men lawyers. 

2. Ensure that sanitation facilities within the courts are improve and that there are restrooms for women lawyers on every floor. 

3. Steps be taken to improve the infrastructure facilities in court premises to ensure that they are disable-friendly and convenient.

4. Create a forum to promote the interaction of women lawyers with eminent members of the Bar Council.

5. Establish and publicize a committee to receive complaints of sexual harassment.

6. Conduct consultations at the national and state level to take into consideration. The view points of women lawyers on measures that must be taken to make the legal profession women-friendly.

References

[1] Savitha Kesav Jagadeesan, “Work-Life Balance, is it a Gender based issue in the legal profession?” SOUVENIR, 6th – 8th January, 2012, 56-57.  

[1] Vishakha v. State of Rajasthan AIR 1997 SC 3011.

[1] AIR 1997 SC 3011.

[1] Sexual Harassment: Gender! A Partnership of Equals, ILO, 58 (2000) available at http://www.sunday-guardian.com/analysis/indian-women-legal-lawyers-face-many-challenges (last accessed 15.02.2021)

[1] AIR 1999 SC 625.

[1] ‘Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession’, ASMITA available at http://www.asmitacollective.in/shlp.html (last accessed on 15.02.2021)

[1] Dhananjay Mahapatra, “Women lawyers move Supreme Court to end harassment in courts”, Sep 9, 2012 available at http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-08-01/india/32979732_1_women-advocates-women-lawyers-apex-court- (last accessed 15.02.2021)

[1] Deborah L. Rhode, “The Unfinished Agenda, Women & the legal profession”, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, p. 6-8.

[1]Irwin A.Horowitz & Kenneth S.Bordens, “Social Perception: The Construction of Social Reality,”Soc.Psychol.87,91-94 (1994). [1]“A Career in the Courtroom: A Different Model for the Success of Women Who Try Cases” at http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/marketresearch/PublicDocuments/Women_in_the_Courtroom.authcheckdam.pdf (last accessed


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