“When I'm sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, 'When there are nine,' people are shocked. But there'd been nine men, and nobody's ever raised a question about that.” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Most of us know of the gender inequality and issues of equal opportunity that persist in the legal world. For instance, the fact that women in the profession “make up 51 per cent of the profession, but only occupy 32 per cent of senior roles” (according to England and Wales Pilot Interim Results Report ).
We hear of and admire the likes of RBG, but cannot name any others. I found myself dumbfounded when reading about all of these inspiring women and almost guilty that I had never heard of them before. It is for this reason that I wish to enlighten you (you are very welcome. No need to thank me really. Ok, stop thanking me now please.) on four other feminist kick-ass legal professionals from around the globe.
Jordan: Emily Bisharat
As I am currently writing this from Jordan, it makes sense to start off with the Kingdom’s first female lawyer. Bisharat originated from Salt (a town near Amman) and originally studied to become a teacher. This was as per her father’s instruction; as during the 30s women were not encouraged to become anything but teachers. However, after her father’s death, she eventually pursued her passion by obtaining her law degree from London, later becoming a member of the Jordan Bar Association's (JBA) council. Bisharat is known for her political activism, as she established the Arab Women’s Union which pushed towards improving literacy rates, voting rights, and women’s suffrage. Moreover, she delivered multiple lectures and wrote various articles concerning the rights of Palestinians. Even after her passing in 2004, she continues to serve as an inspiration for Arab women pursuing law.
South Africa: Leona Theron
Theron is a judge on the Constitutional Court (aka, the highest court in the country) of South Africa and is also known for formerly being a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal. After completing her masters in law at Georgetown University (Washington DC), she practiced as an advocate in Durban. In 1995 she was designated as a member of the Judge White Commission by (then) President Nelson Mandela. At only 32 she was the youngest judge in the country, and also the first black female judge to be appointed in KwaZulu-Natal.
She is best known for the strong dissent she wrote in the case State v Nkomo through which Justice Theron expressed the significant need for courts to remember their duty to protect the ‘equality, dignity, and freedom of women’.
She also strives towards building a community in which female lawyers persevere, evident in her being a foundation member of the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ). Within the activist group SAC-IAWJ, the organization focuses on promoting the rule of law and equal justice for women.
India: Indira Jaising
Jaising is a distinguished human rights lawyer and senior advocate at the Supreme Court of India. She is also a co-founder of The Leaflet, a platform fostering independent journalism concerning legal and political opinions. In 2018 she ranked 20th on the list of the top 50 Great Leaders of the World (Fortune magazine).
She is best known for her involvement in several cases relating to discrimination against women, especially the Mary Roy case. As a result of this case, equal inheritance rights were granted to Syrian Christian women. Thus, they could now be governed by the Indian Succession Act. In addition to this, Jaising was also a key player in the Githa Hariharan case, from which it was held that under Hindu law the mother was also the "natural guardian" of her minor children. Hence, children were then also allowed to carry their mothers name.
Even today, at age 82, she continues to advocate for gender equality and human rights in India.
United States: Gloria Allred
Allred is an attorney, hailing from Pennsylvania. She is best known for her extremely high profile and controversial cases, most specifically addressing women’s rights and discrimination. Allred’s influence is clear in that she has even been added to the National Women's Hall of Fame.
Moreover, her Netflix documentary ‘Seeing Allred’ discusses two of the biggest adversaries of her career: Bill Cosby and Donald Trump in regard to their sexual violence allegations.
As one of the strong female lawyers, with a great taste in suits (if I may add), she serves as a trailblazer in doing what is right and ensuring justice is served.
…And this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding women in law. There are so many amazing women doing revolutionary things in this field. If you are a woman working towards your career, I hope this has inspired you to rage on! That way next time, I’ll be writing this sort of article about you.