International Women’s Day: A personal reflection – I choose to challenge
March 8, 2021
Today, 8th March 2021, the world marks International Women’s Day. According to the official website of International Women’s Day, today “is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.” 
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “choose to challenge.”
In grasping the invitation to choose to challenge, I choose to challenge why it is that women both here in the UK and around the world have had to fight for the right to vote, to own property, to hold their own bank accounts and take out loans, for equal pay for work of equal value, for reproductive rights and even to be able to buy an alcoholic drink at the bar in pub ?
I choose to challenge why it is that the fight for equality is still far from won.
Indeed, it wasn’t until the Equal Franchise Act 1928 that all women in this country were granted the right to vote (the Representation of the People Act 1918 which we often laud as giving women the right to vote applied only to women over the age of 30). Having secured the vote almost 100 years ago the composition of our legislative bodies is still far from representative: of the 650 Members of Parliament only 220 are women (the highest number yet)  and of the 798 members of the House of Lords only 223 are women. 
Formal efforts to address inequality in the workplace and in pay only really commenced with the advent of the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the gender pay gap continues to exist. 
Within our own profession women continue to be underrepresented. As of December 2020, women constituted 38.2 per cent of the Bar compared to an estimate of 50.2 per cent of the UK working age population  and women only comprise 16.8% of silks. Unsurprisingly women are poorly represented amongst the judiciary: 32% of circuit judges are women,  and in the higher courts only 11 of the current 42 court of appeal judges are women and only 2 out of 12 supreme court justices (once Lady Justice Rose formally commences her tenure on the Court on 13th April 2021) are women.
Women continue disproportionately to be victims of domestic abuse. 
Shockingly, on average a woman is killed by a man every three days.  Similarly I never cease to be shocked when I recall that until 1991, the year I was called to the Bar, the fact of marriage and irrevocable consent to sex as part of the marriage contract was often used as a defence to a charge of rape when alleged to have been committed by a man upon his wife. 
All of this despite the UK’s commitment to eliminate gender inequality by its ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women on 7th April 1986.
Whilst I choose to challenge all the ways in which women are treated as lesser than men, excluded from opportunities or otherwise discriminated against I choose to do so for all women reminding myself that the inequalities women face are exacerbated for women of colour. Moreover, intersectionality of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, disability, demographics compounds the experience of discrimination and exclusion. A stark example can be found when we consider maternal mortality rates. The British Medical Journal recently noted this disparity,
Black women are four times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth, says the seventh annual report from MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries). Women from Asian ethnic backgrounds face a twofold risk, and women living in the most deprived areas of the UK are almost three times more likely to die than those in the most affluent areas. 
To return to our profession, according to the BSB’s “Diversity at the Bar 2020” report  14.1% of the Bar is described as being “minority ethnic.”  However, the report does not seem to disaggregate for sex as well as ethnicity. Perhaps our own daily experience shows us better than any research compiled by the BSB that women of colour and from ethnic minority backgrounds are far from adequately represented amongst us.
I choose to challenge that and to fight for women’s rights and equality every day in any way I can.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Celestine Greenwood joined Exchange Chambers in November 2020, as part of a 14-strong family law team. The team specialises in all aspects of public and private children law cases acting for parents, children, extended family members, guardians, local authorities and government bodies, at all levels of the family court from the Magistrates to High Court and the Court of Appeal.
 R v R  1 AC 599
 Supra pg 14