People think that the world is liberating and men and women are being treated equally in all walks of life. This is more of an ideal situation than the actual situation. For many people who are working relentlessly for the equal treatment of all the genders and orientations, this post may come as a shock as it’s regarding instances of multiple sexual harassment in one of the noblest professions out there, i.e. the legal profession.
The international legal news these days is raging by the news of one man, Dyson Heydon, former justice of the High Court of Australia. The man is accused of sexual assault on multiple accounts by at least six women. He is accused of kissing and inappropriate touching by these women, who all are his former associates. Earlier, High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel was shocked to learn such incidents in an institution of such stature. She said she is ashamed that such harassment has happened at the High Court. Now, the High Court Chief Executive Philippa Lynch has emailed at least 100 former associates of Heydon and asked them to share their experiences and ordeals, if they faced any, with them.
This isn't the first time a judge has been accused of an act constituting sexual harassment. Earlier in 2019, a woman accused ex-CJI of India of sexual harassment while she was working as an assistant in October 2018. A panel was constituted at the Supreme Court of India to look into this matter as it was cited as a matter of grave public importance. The charges were however dropped later due to the lack of sufficient evidence and substance for the accusations leveled by the woman.
This brings us to the topic of our blog today that 'is the law a man's world'? There has been seen a predominance of men in the legal fraternity. From law firms to judiciary, there has been a shortfall of women in positions that are more respected in the legal world. According to some reports, only 27% of the law firms partnered by women and this is the case in the judiciary.
There are so many incidents in which an element of male dominance can be asserted. Women Judges are interrupted by the male counsels to assert male dominance quite often and men holding top offices often sexually harass their junior associates to assert the same hierarchy. As it is commonly known that a profession like law, which is highly driven by performance and hierarchy, sexual harassment is a way to assert male dominance.
The reason behind such behavior could be the fact that women were denied studying law for a very long period and it has only been recently, that women started studying law. Many reports also show that when a female lawyer holds a top position at an office, she is underpaid than her male counterparts. However, this situation is slowly changing, there has been a time when it drew a lot of flak. This could also be a reason behind the high attrition rate of women from this profession.
According to me, independent bodies should be constituted so that the women who have gone through any of such instances could come out and speak up. Fair investigations should be conducted in this regard so that serious and repeat offenders could be brought to justice. Relation mentoring should also be conducted on an organizational level so that people could speak about their grievances on an organizational level before filing any serious charges against someone they work with. Women themselves should develop networks where they could share their situations with someone's experience and talk about their issues. Speaking out is the only way forward in such scenarios.
Although we have been seeing a grim picture because of the news in Australia, there is still a ray of optimism if we stay connected to our peers and share our instances. With that only, we may hope to see more young women in the legal profession and hold prestigious designations.