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Women in the public sphere: the example of women jurists


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Expansión (digital edition)

Mª Cruz Díaz de Terán

Professor of Law and coordinator of the network WINN of Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra

In recent decades, the presence of women has increased and normalised in almost all spheres of society: business, science, communication... However, the achievements that have been made should not make us lose sight of the fact that there is still a long way to go, especially in terms ofwomen's promotion to positions of responsibility and their equal participation in decision-making at the highest levels of institutions. 

Knowing the history and recovering references financial aid helps us to realise that this will be possible if we professionals bring great individual determination - as much as those pioneers who paved the way for us had - and if we have broad social backing.

One of those areas in which we have made steady progress is law. issue If we look back a little less than a century, we can see a huge increase in the number of women studying and practising law discipline . We also celebrate that they have begun to conquer heights previously reserved for their peers. 

In Spain, the first female lawyer was Ascensión Chirivella, who obtained her degree at degree scroll in 1922. Two years later, only 1.9% of students had a woman's name; in 2016 they reached 55.5%. And the trend continues: in the last year, they accounted for 60% of student body in legal sciences

As for the practice of law, between 1920 and 1931 there were only seven female lawyers. In 2016, they accounted for 44.14% of the total and, although their presence is still slightly lower than that of men, it is gradually increasing. In the same year, the committee General de la Abogacía Española, which brings together the professional associations of lawyers in this country, appointed its first female president, Victoria Ortega Benito.

It should be noted that discrimination in the courts took time to be eradicated. Until the 1961 reform, no woman could hold the post of judge at position , and at that time only in the Juvenile and Social Court. Although in 1966 the limitations were completely eliminated, the first woman to gain access to the post did not do so until 1977. The rise has been unstoppable: forty years later, they accounted for 70% of those who passed judicial examinations

Our country's trajectory is by no means an isolated case. It has been very similar to that of the USA, the nation we tend to look to as an example of progress in social rights and freedoms. In 1915 there were seven female law students at Cambridge (Massachusetts) and Portia (Boston), two all-female universities. In 1950, the prestigious Harvard Law School School admitted its first 19 students. In the following decades, the percentage of female students at these programs of study continued to rise steadily at the US campus : 25% of those enrolled in 1977, 40% in the early 1970s; 49% in 2015. 

When it comes to the practice of law in the US, 38% were women in 2019, up nine points from 2000. And 1981 saw the first female associate justice join the nation's highest court, the Supreme Court. Although it must also be said that only she and three other colleagues have made it, out of 112 judges who have served there. 

The figures are revealing, no doubt. But the presence of women has meant much more to law than the recognition and satisfaction of female professionals. Their work in different areas has made it possible to introduce important changes in the legal culture that have improved the quality of justice and, therefore, have benefited society as a whole

Some programs of study show that their presence has made it possible to give visibility to social issues that would otherwise go unnoticed, unimproved or unaddressed. For example, issues such as various forms of discrimination, including sexual and labour discrimination, women's suffrage, protection of minors, defence of minorities, family, Education and prison reforms, as well as cases of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, are now being addressed with greater sensitivity. 

In Spain, the growing participation of women in law has been accompanied by formal improvements. By way of example, we can cite the equality commissions of committee General de la Abogacía and committee General del Poder Judicial, created to guarantee equality of attention and opportunities, to deepen conciliation measures and to avoid discriminatory language. 

Likewise, in 2007, Organic Law 3/2007 of 22 March 2007 came into force, introducing mechanisms to guarantee equality of attention and opportunities between women and men. And two years earlier, the Courts for Violence against Women began to operate, in response to a call from the United Nations to deal with these crimes. 

The experience of the last hundred years, especially the last decades, has been an eye-opener. It has made it clear that, since society is made up of women and men, the only way to ensure that we are all truly represented and that the plurality of perspectives is taken into account is to encourage both to participate at all levels of legal institutions. And not only at instructions, where, as we have seen, there have been important achievements, but also in the highest positions of responsibility.