Lawyering, For Women, Is Not A Cake Walk!

Mahalakshmi Pavani
10 March 2019 9:52 AM GMT
Lawyering, For Women, Is Not A Cake Walk!
"A lot of sacrifices go into the making of the Woman who you see in court tackling cases, clients, family, social pursuits with ease and elan. Multi-tasking is indeed to be learnt from Lady Lawyers."
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In the wake of contemporary feminist movements like #MeToo emerging from all over the world since 2016, feminism has been well perceived by young minds and has flourished considerably. 

But I believe that it's high time that we question ourselves if this alluring ideology of feminism, a synonym of equality, is getting implemented in our legal profession or not. When we, the privileged lady lawyers, pose ourselves as knights in shining armor, standing for all the women who undergo sexual harassment and gender discrimination, it is quite contradictory that we often forget the plight of the women who undergo the same treatment in the multiple rungs of our own noble profession.

Lawyering is considered as one of the most powerful, noble and dynamic professions in our country. We have had a range of scholars and laureates emerging from this upstanding profession ranging from politicians, economists, academicians and what not. But just like every other profession, women go through a lot of predicaments while aspiring to be a meaningful part of legal fraternity and a worthy contributor to the profession. But unfortunately, these predicaments are not as transparent as other professions to cause any legal infractions. Let me elaborate here: when an incident of sexual harassment takes place in an MNC or a Company, the predator or wrongdoer, even if not completely deterred, is still faced with the trepidation of the mighty Law. But in our very noble profession, especially in the Court practice, a woman inevitably faces perversities from those who are most conversant with the trappings of the law and it is these clever male professionals who would dismiss an acute allegation of sexual assault as 'scurrilous propaganda', 'personal vendetta', 'professional jealousy' and would rub it off their shoulder as a dust stain.

With better and competent law schools emerging in every nook and corner of our country, we expect a record-breaking influx of fresh lady lawyers joining the bar in the upcoming years. 
Woefully, even in our modern times the society stereotypes a girl as a rebel if she opts to pursue law. Moreover, there is a prevalent stereotype that legal profession is only meant for men and it is extremely difficult for women to both enter as well as excel in this profession. But it disheartens me to endorse that particular stereotype because I went through numerous antagonistic situations to reach where I am today and sadly that's the harsh reality of our profession which dissuades a number of young budding female lawyers to pursue litigation as a career. 
Apart from the already existing gender discrimination, we the women lawyers in New Delhi face a major problem of commuting to our homes on time in order to ensure that our family is not worried about our safety. Additionally, the death stares we get from the male advocates, court staff and clients for being an outspoken individual and a bold woman is intolerable.

Even though the #MeToo movement has brought a lot of high-class predators in the limelight, regrettably it has also hampered the opportunities of women being hired by male seniors in the bar. Male advocates now seem to be more apprehensive to engage the services of women as juniors or interns especially because of the long hours that are required to prepare for the next day's case and they need to be more careful in expressing their gratitude for the good assistance rendered by the junior because a casual pat on the shoulder could be termed as sexual advance. If a Woman lawyer is loud in voice and assertive in her arguments she is labelled as a cantankerous woman or sometimes even colourful expletives are used because it's the prerogative of only successful male lawyers to be loud, rambunctious and assertive. Judges tend to not take the woman lawyers too seriously and feel that the woman lawyers should take up matrimonial matters and mediation. No doubt woman lawyers are brilliant as mediators and in family matters, but this doesn't dictate that females must only practice a particular genre of law. Let me give a small illustration where women lawyers are hardly ever trusted with a particular brief; company matters or hardcore criminal cases where brutalities are severe, the clients particularly feel that the presumably demure nature of a women lawyer would prevent her from conducting cross-examinations or leading evidence and that in company matters where stakes are high they wouldn't be able to deliver as forcefully or effectively as a male contemporary. These notions about women being thought of as inferior or fit to do only a certain class of matters is what is preventing our profession to grow into a more egalitarian and accommodating profession. 
Clients normally tend to reduce the fee of a Senior Lawyer because they feel she is not at par with her male colleagues to demand an equal fee. Sometimes clients cheat the women lawyers as they feel they can get away easily.

Lack of space inside the courtroom subjects her to a lot of physical discomforts too but she has to juggle her way to the front with her files and books making her way through male clerks and advocates. It sometimes becomes so difficult to even stand and address the court in batch matters when the court is jam-packed; women lawyers are literally struggling to survive in a male-dominated profession. It is dismal but true that most women in the Courts go through sexual harassment, Ms. Indira Jaisingh who is the leader of the female bar and a living inspiration for young girls aspiring to be lawyers has faced it and in an article of hers she has been explicit about the entire episode where two senior lawyers tried to make lewd passes at her and she didn't hesitate once and slapped the person concerned. Even I have gone through the same. More than once it has happened that a reputable lawyer has leaned over towards me in the corridor of the Supreme Court and told me that I'm looking pretty or that my perfume is distracting or telling me that my smile alone is sufficient to get a favorable order. Remarks like these are totally uncharitable and uncalled for. Personally, all these incidents were uncomfortable and truly unbecoming of the persons concerned. Being the daughter-in-law of one of the legends of the Bar if I could be subjected to such comments what to say of the women with no legal family background.
Since the inception of the Supreme Court of Independent India, it took almost four decades for the first female judge to steer the paramount temple of justice, it took seven decades for the Supreme Court to have a direct female appointment from the Bar and sadly we haven't even had a female Chief Justice of India. I feel that this patriarchal trend is going to drift towards the path of gender equality only when at least two seats in the Collegium are reserved for female judges. 
Insofar as the story of a female advocate's life is concerned it is a struggle as women after getting out of law schools to work as juniors for a period of 2-3 years and just as they are gaining a foothold, marriage is thrust on them by family and thus profession gets derailed. Motherhood follows and giving the profession full attention is impossible and a fine balance cannot be struck as she has to manage both home and office which becomes very difficult. Apart from motherhood, responsibilities are heaped on her as she has to take care of her husband, parents-in-law, home and other commitments. Later on, many women end up struggling as they have to dedicate a lot of time to their growing kids despite not having even a basic humane scheme like maternity leave/benefits. It is only when the 'Mother' in her feels, "yes, now the kids have grown and can manage on their own" and has the support of her spouse and immediate family does she enter the profession and is able to wholeheartedly pursue her passion. A lot of sacrifices go into the making of the Woman who you see in court tackling cases, clients, family, social pursuits with ease and elan. Multi-tasking is indeed to be learnt from Lady Lawyers.

Stalling the Women's Reservation Bill in the Parliament shows the misogynistic attitude of the current government which tries to hide their anti-feministic agendas through pseudo-feministic schemes and programmes like 'Beti Bachao Beti Padhao.

On this Women's Day when Women all around the globe are being celebrated of their gender, my sincere request to the readers and the policymakers is to acclaim, acknowledge and protect the sacrifices made by my fellow lady members of the bar because they are the ones who waive of their minimalistic joys of life right when they step into the profession.

"Women Lawyers, May Your Tribe Increase!"

Mahalakshmi Pavani  is  a Senior Advocate at Supreme Court of India.

[The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of LiveLaw and LiveLaw does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same]

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