For the first time in India’s history, three women have taken oaths at the Supreme Court. In his remarks, the Chief Justice observed that women should comprise 50% of the judiciary at all levels. Bench progress has been slow yet definite, but how about bar progress?
It is true that women graduate from the top law schools and work at junior levels in the legal profession at a similar rate to their male peers, but this does not translate into equality at work or later in higher positions. The systemic discrimination they face hinders their upward mobility. It is especially important to embrace gender diversity in the legal profession, where women play a crucial role in upholding equality, fairness, and impartiality in the justice system, especially for disadvantaged groups.
Getting out of the house is a major issue for most professional and career-oriented women. In addition to their own personal and family problems, work schedules, working hours and work timings, professional women face many problems in addition to long commutes, crowded buses, long hours in courts, tolerating indecent remarks by male co-workers, and experiencing eve-teasing. A professional dress code and ethical standards were expected of practitioners. Women held only a small share of the legal profession in India in the 20th century, but men dominated it. The pioneer of the movement to remove sex discrimination against women in the legal profession, Dr Hari Sigh Gaur made the following amendment to the resolution adopted by the Central Legislative Assembly of India to remove the sex discrimination against women. This was in order for women to be included on the electoral roll for elections to the Legislative Assembly to be held on February 1st, 1922: “And the Government also be pleased to remove the sex bar that disqualified women from enlisting as legal practitioners.”
The issue of women in litigation, specifically commercial litigation, is almost completely understudied or undocumented. Vidhi Survey conducted in 2020 found that Kerala had the highest number of women involved in litigation, with 28.57 percent, closely followed by Delhi (22.47%), Bombay (21.51%). Therefore, women’s representation at the bar needs to be examined carefully. In spite of exaggerated discourses on gender equality in the legal profession, interviews conducted with women lawyers in three cities – Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore – revealed a lack of standard industry policies and practices that ensure and promote equality. Most policies were not documented. Contrary to what many young women lawyers said, the vast majority of informal conversations began with the assertion of professional equality. Following questions, however, revealed numerous gender biases and discriminatory practices. There is also the denial of benefits and promotions in corporate jobs, as well as women being assigned unchallenging work and receiving lower fees than men. Despite the fact that women are regarded as valuable talent, most companies refuse to invest in them. For many companies, maternity leave and benefits are a drain on resources. Consequently, 84% of women in law firms and companies rated their employers as below average when it came to childcare assistance programmes, and 74% of them felt their employers did well when it came to promoting or mentoring women within their organizations. In law firms and companies, women appear to be more likely to face gender bias than men. Employers frequently inquire about marital status and children during job interviews. Under the Equality Act 2010, the United Kingdom prohibits questions relating to marital status and children, but there is no such law in India.
Additionally, while there is a reservation for women across several public offices, colleges, there is no such requirement for the positions of government pleader or public prosecutor, so women public defenders are extremely rare. A woman litigator’s career does not stand a chance of succeeding when she faces problems like maternity leave, non-recognition, inaccessible rest rooms, and lack of crèches in courts. It is often assumed that women specialize in family law or women’s rights law practice in the courtroom. The general perception of women as being ‘care-oriented’ lawyers is that they are not confrontational, better at understanding clients emotions than economic or finance. This also indicates that women are better mediators. This shows that only men are capable of making a convincing argument in the courtroom, which is highly remunerative in the highly lucrative commercial dispute resolution space.
In the legal world, sexual harassment is also a frequent phenomenon. Under “The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, the term ‘sexual harassment’ is broadly defined. As the word ‘workplace’ is interpreted, Courts do not fall under the periphery of the act, which makes the application weak over there. In recent years, however, the Supreme Court of India has created a gender sensitization committee (Supreme Court Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee) to assist with cases of sexual harassment on the premises. India’s high courts do not have dedicated committees for complaints of sexual harassment.
We need to act now to address the aforementioned situation. Surveys must be conducted across courts to determine and improve the representation of women on the bench as a matter of urgency by the government. Commercial litigation should be documented, acknowledged and appreciated by media houses. Increasing the number of women on the bench will certainly lead to more women at the bar. Women, especially mothers, will be more likely to stay in the program if there are better facilities for them. In spite of slow progress, it is vital that we proceed one step at a time.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
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