The 8th of March each year marks the day for women to unite and celebrate everything awesome about being a woman. The themes for this year’s International Women’s Day are ‘Balance for Better’ with the United Nations official theme ‘More Powerful Together’.
The #BalanceForBetter is a call to action for driving gender balance across the world to build a gender-balance worldwide. The International Women’s day posits that balance drives a gender-balanced world. We notice its absence and celebrate its presence.
Similarly, the UN Women National Committee Australia’s theme is focused on bridging the divide between men and women. Executive director of UN Women National Committee Janelle Weissman also touched on how bridging the divide between women and men will have positive implications on creating a violence free world for women.
In light of these campaigns, it is important to recognise the past and current position of women in Australia’s legal industry. Women have faced challenges in the legal profession, which has traditionally exuded a male-dominated culture. Victoria was the first state in Australia to repeal the legal barriers for women in 1903. By 1947 only 2% of all practicing lawyers in Australia were women. In August 2001, in an address to the Victorian Women Lawyer’s association, Justice Kirby remarked that in his first eighteen months on the High Court, he heard approximately two hundred barristers but only six were women.
In 2017, her Honour Susan Mary Kiefel AC QC was sworn in as the first female justice of the High Court. By 2016, women comprised over 62.5% of law graduates in Australia. The Victorian Bar announced in 2018 that women now comprise 29% of Victorian barristers compared to 5.5% in 1980. Trends in representation of women at the Bar are expected to continue.
However, the female legal cohort continues to face issues of discrimination and sexual harassment within the workplace. During the Victorian Legal Lane Way Breakfast on 6 February 2019, the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner and CEO Fiona McLeay announced their latest initiative to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. While the formal barriers have been eliminated, Australia’s legal industry continues to work towards attaining a gender-balanced industry.