My views about the present topic i.e. Scope of women in legal education are from a litigator prospective and I will speak from my experiences as a litigator. I was enrolled in 1992 as an Advocate on Law Day. I didn’t come from a lawyer family so I didn’t have a cake walk, I slough my way through and built my practice. I never saw myself as a woman lawyer rather I saw myself as a lawyer.
Being a woman in India itself is a task, as at one point almost every female has to choose between her career and her motherhood or family. No doubt, the legal field has seen an extraordinary growth of women lawyers, unsurprisingly there still remains the gender bias and discriminatory practices bias as female lawyers have to work more to and fight your way to and struggle to prove that they are good lawyers too and also to reach some level with male colleagues. I recounted how I would initially not get a lot of work, as people did not think a woman lawyer would be capable of handling it. Women are judged and compared with the male colleague. Even if you are a good lawyer and have a good amount of work, the colleagues will try to grab your work or remove you from the case because of competition in the field of law. More woman are joining profession but many of them are dropping profession because of non-encouragement from the family or the work pressure and time constrain and environment being so in hospital able at a work place.
Women joined the profession since 1923, but it in recent times has attracted large number of women to study law. Though, the number of women in the profession has been growing steadily, but their proportion in total population of the legal practitioners is still less. The women entering the legal profession, faces the traditional mindset of the Indian families posing innumerable challenges to both single and married women aspirants.
Women have as much potential as men to contribute to the overall social and economic development of our country but they had to wage a relentless war for their emancipation from the age-old bonds. The Indian women were denied the privilege until the High Court of Allahabad took the lead and allowed the application Miss Cornelia Sorabji to practice law by its epoch-making judgment on 24th August 1921. She was the first women to be enrolled as an advocate in India. As a result of which, the Legal Practitioners (Women) Act of 1923 was passed. The first female Judge in the court was Fatima Beevi appointed in the year 1989 in the Hon’ble Supreme Court and there have been 7 more female justices in the court since then. Presently there are 3 sitting female judges out of the total 34 judges (including Chief Justice of India) in the court namely Hon’ble Ms. Justice R. Banumathi, Hon’ble Ms. Justice Indu Malhotra and Hon’ble Ms. Justice Indira Banerjee. In 1977, Justice Leila Seth was designated as a senior advocate by the Supreme Court and she was first lady Judge of the Delhi High Court. Then, Justice Indu Malhotra, in 2007 became a Senior and thereafter, elevated as Hon’ble Court Judge of Supreme Court. Then in 2013, Ms. Meenakshi Arora, Ms. Kiran Suri and Ms. Vibha Dutta Makhija, all advocates-on-record became senior advocates. In 2015 two more lady lawyers became senior Advocates namely Ms. V. Mohana, Ms. Mahalakshmi Pavani and then in 2019 five lady lawyers became seniors namely Ms. Madhavi Goradia Dewan, Ms. Ashwariya Bhatti, Ms. Priya Hingorani, Ms. Anitha Shenoy and Ms. Aparajita Singh. Another aspect is when the Government come to power various political post are there as AG, SC, ASG and it very difficult to get hold of this position from the lobby. It was only in 2009 that a woman has become ASG. In the present day there are two lady ASG in Hon’ble Supreme Court and recently appointed is Ms. Ashwariya Bhatti and Ms. Madhavi Dewan (re-appointed).
Other places where women with legal education can open her wings being independent lawyer or step into cooperate world or join as a legal officer/assistants in various organizations or authorities or Government agencies/departments and can also be Court clerks/masters or Registrars. She can also be into legal documentation work or in publishing books or editing judgments/cases and many other things.
To be in the profession the young female lawyers needs lot of family support to grow and enable you to practice as this profession requires lot of time and there is time constrain to balance your profession and family. Even many of the corporate fields don’t prefer women lawyers as they feel that maternity leave and benefits are waste of their resources. The corporate lawyers have to sit for a fixed period of time, being minimum 8 hours Women in litigation also have it hard. They don’t get the standard 12 weeks maternity break. Even though they have flexible time hours, as they can leave according to their professional and personal commitments.
In today’s time the controversy of profession has changed you have to have network to get profession running. You have to meet people to get work from officers. Many women lawyers are mistaken as other non-lawyers and are told to do office housework like scheduling meetings, planning parties etc.
With regard to further challenges of Women Lawyers, many juniors and other lady lawyers are there in the profession but they cannot make corners at top level as women are still minority at top level. But you have to focus on your work and let work speak about you and you should always be punctual. There is denial of promotions in legal profession. More women are likely to feel they are less paid than the equally working male colleagues but it’s the appearance which matter the most.
The very important aspect is that the woman should feel safe and dignified at the place of work. After the Vishaka & Ors. Vs. State of Rajasthan & Ors. judgement (AIR 1997 SC 3011), guidelines were framed for women safety. On 9.12.2013, Supreme Court Gender Sensitization and Internal Complaints Committee (GSICC) had the first meeting headed by Hori’ble Mrs. Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai was held in the Supreme Court’s premises to work out the modalities for the effective implementation of the “The Gender Sensitization and Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013” and to take decision on related issues. Presently, the committee is functional too and Hon’ble Justice Ms. Indu Malhotra is part of the Committee. Any complaint by the woman lawyer has been addressed at the earliest.
A woman should support another woman instead of become jealous of her work. Similarly men advocates and Judges should also promote women. The young lady lawyers should be given healthy atmosphere and encourage to join profession by giving them crutch benefits for her children and other facilities and separate bar rooms in all Courts.
Further, in my view, Collegium should look for more and more appointment of lady judges, those who are competent enough, the Government should have some plan and affirmative action for promotion of women lawyers and /or to take lady lawyers in top position whether it is for appointment of ASG, Judges or in politics which is the major issue to be focus upon. There is a need to bring qualitative improvement in the participation of women legal professionals. We must ensure that the best qualified individual, be they women or men should be appointed as judiciary. Gender balance is also important for public confidence in the judiciary. Some strict laws or reservations should be made to help in making the profession more conducive to women. By joining the legal profession, you get vast knowledge in the field of law and have your separate identity and you become an officer of the Court and slowly and gradually, you make your position.
The Author is a Advocate, Supreme Court of India