12 Dec 2022 11:42 AM GMT
Women in the field of law not only get less work and paid less as compared to their male counterparts, but also get fewer opportunities to become partners in law firms or empanelled in the corporate or government sectors, said Justice Hima Kohli on Saturday. "There has been a running gender disparity between men and women, whether in litigation practice or in law firms. Women...
Women in the field of law not only get less work and paid less as compared to their male counterparts, but also get fewer opportunities to become partners in law firms or empanelled in the corporate or government sectors, said Justice Hima Kohli on Saturday. "There has been a running gender disparity between men and women, whether in litigation practice or in law firms. Women lawyers frequently report that they are faced with gender bias, stereotyping, struggle to maintain a work-life balance, disparity in salary and harassment at the workplace," the Supreme Court judge noted with dismay, "The 'Old Boys Club' continues to operate at different levels, perhaps more subtly these days, creating an impediment for the women practitioner."
Justice Kohli was speaking at a fireside discussion on 'Inclusion and Empowerment' organised by the International Arbitration and Mediation Centre, Hyderabad. Also invited to speak were other accomplished women who had managed to 'break the glass ceiling' in their respective fields. The event was attended by women from various industries, senior women bureaucrats, heads of women-led organizations, and women working with government departments. Eleven exceptional women achievers were also recognised and felicitated at the event.
Several measures were suggested by Justice Kohli to empower women in the legal profession, which has traditionally been a male-dominated field. She said, "There is a need to track and publish gender statistics relating to the appointment of women as partners in law firms, as arbitrators, as judges and as members of tribunals and commissions." Compiling and publishing the statistics, she said with great conviction, would help in 'analysing where the fault lines are and finding solutions to bridge the fissures'. She also advocated for the inclusion of more women in conflict resolution. "The legal industry would benefit from investing in the professional development of women lawyers and promoting them more actively to clients, as keynote speakers in national and international conferences and on panel discussions," she suggested. She explained that the presence of women in top leadership positions within law firms and in government organisations would ensure that the 'unconscious bias' in the field is overcome and confidence is instilled in women to hold decision-making positions. On the role of corporate players, Justice Kohli said that since they were important stakeholders in the world of arbitration, it was incumbent upon them to ensure that the names of women were included in any list that they received for appointing an arbitrator. Furthermore, young women lawyers must also be afforded opportunities to intern in the legal departments of business houses and the government sector to gain experience, the judge said.
Addressing the gathering, Justice Kohli noted with pride, "I stand before you in a representative capacity, having pierced the glass ceiling. As a first-generation lawyer in the family to the senior-most women judge serving in the Supreme Court, it has been indeed a long and enriching journey." However, her own achievements did not detract from the fact that a glass ceiling existed even today and women in the profession are compelled to make an extra effort to shatter it, she admitted. She added, "At the end of the day, it is the approach of the society that reflects from the treatment that is meted out to its women." Justice Kohli also quoted the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a famous United States Supreme Court judge and a champion of women's rights, "As women achieve power, the barriers will fall. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we'll all be better off for it."
Justice Hima Kohli is one of the three women judges of the Supreme Court who are currently in office. Among the women judges, she is the senior-most. Against the total sanctioned strength of 34, there are currently 28 judges, with Justice Dipankar Datta being administered oath today. Out of the 28 judges, 25, or a staggering 89.2 per cent of sitting judges of the Supreme Court, are men. The current Chief Justice, D.Y. Chandrachud and the former Chief Justice, U.U. Lalit have both recently called for greater gender diversity on the bench.