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No gender equality without the rule of law

Baroness Chakrabarti | Bar Council

4 min read Partner content

Barrister Baroness Chakrabarti, CBE, guest blogs for the Bar Council, seeking answers from the legal world and giving her view on how to address the vast issue of gender equality and protect the rule of law from "enemies of the people cynicism". 

As a law student and young barrister, I learned early on that whilst bad laws can be an enormous obstacle to equality, there will be no social or individual justice without the Rule of Law. Oppressive Governments and Corporations use inequality of arms for abuses of power, but as the late great Tom Bingham argued in his modern classic "The Rule of Law", that foremost constitutional norm has equality as a key component. 

I will never forget the joy and privilege of chairing the launch of his paperback just months before his untimely death in 2011.  Recently retired from our highest court, he was looking forward to enjoying the freedom to campaign in defence of the Human Rights Act in particular. This week I shall return to the RSA for the launch of a paperback polemic of my own. "Of Wom=n" is my best attempt at analysing and urging action against global gender injustice. Inevitably the cure, like the disease must be social, economic and cultural, but the law and its architects and custodians also have a significant part to play. 

How is it that after 90 (not 100 - don't believe the hype - in 1918 working-class women were deliberately excluded) years of women's suffrage and nearly 50 of Equal Pay legislation in the U.K,  financial, social,  professional and political equality between the sexes is still so apparently far from reach? 

Firstly, our equality laws need greater teeth. It is fanciful to place the burden of policing equal pay law on individual women, especially when they are denied access to legal services and so many employers elude any semblance of transparency in relation to pay. State agencies audit and enforce both corporate governance and tax collection. It seems to me that it's high time for similar powers in relation to pay parity as well. 

I have also seen the enormous catalysing effect of targeted and time-limited affirmation action methods to improve the representation of women. As a result of the use of All Women Shortlists, the Labour Party has more women Members of Parliament than all other political parties combined and we have a wholly reasonable and attainable target of achieving 50 per cent at the next General Election whenever it comes. I believe it maybe time for legislative change to enable similar measures in highly segregated areas of the workforce. I think much good could come from more young male primary school teachers, more ethnically diverse police services and yes, from more women in our corporate boardrooms and senior judiciary. 

I have no doubt in my mind that men can do justice for women. It was after all a male-dominated judiciary and not a female-led Government, that finally outlawed marital rape in our country only three decades ago. Nonetheless, more diverse experience will enhance our most precious institutions, encourage public trust and protect the Rule of Law from the "enemies of the people" cynicism that prefers the law of the oligarch and the mob.

Read the most recent article written by Baroness Chakrabarti - Labour is nothing if it does not stand up to attacks on our democracy

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