It is a privilege to be voicing my views on a global day celebrating women. International Women’s Day brings to attention important issues involving women, and these issues touch upon those that women face in the law.
It is a day to celebrate the progress that has been made but also a day to recognise the work that still needs to be done to ensure that women’s rights are protected and promoted worldwide.
I must admit I needed to undertake a Google dive into the history of International Women’s Day. The day was initiated and given footing by the universal female suffrage movement that had begun here, in Aotearoa New Zealand, and the first reported observance, called National Women’s Day was held in New York City more than 100 years ago, on February 28, 1909.
Since then, it was adopted by the United Nations in the mid 1970s and since 1977 it has been commemorated annually by the UN and many places around the world.
This year the theme is Equality versus Equity: What is the difference as we embrace equity for International Women’s Day in 2023 and beyond?
This is particularly interesting for me as a youngish female litigator and a young immigrant from China as I consider the future of our profession, my own practice, and how this affects us as women.
As the theme highlights, equality is not equity.
Often regarded as a fundamental principle of human rights, equality is embedded in many laws and declarations. It is the state of being equal in terms of rights, opportunities, treatment, or status with everyone entitled to the same level of respect, dignity, and value.
However, equity acknowledges and addresses the systemic and structural societal inequalities. Equitable treatment considers the differences that are inherent in different people to provide a rounded approach that could improve inclusion, wellbeing and generate goodwill that may not have previously existed.
Simply put, “Like equity, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things.” Equity is a more effective approach to promoting social justice.
When I first started out in practice, I was one of around a handful of young female lawyers operating in and out of the criminal courts in Auckland and one of a small number of Chinese female lawyers working in litigation.
Although I was lucky enough not to have come across any obvious prejudice by other practitioners, there were plenty of examples of slander and direct comments about my appearance and ethnicity by clients and other court users. I did not take a lot of this to heart or I may have decided to become a piano teacher.
I have also acted for clients, particularly in the criminal courts, where their welfare and circumstances as women were of particular concern in the outcome of their case and these were usually taken into account. I believe this reflects an understanding in our community to promote fairness, while acknowledging that people do start from different places and need to be treated differently in order for the result to be just.
Each year, International Women’s Day celebrates women. It is a day of tribute to all those who have worked hard to make progress to ensure women are, at least, on the same playing field.
For me personally I am grateful to many great women in law, including and in particular those who paved the way for women at the bar, particularly and especially every one of those women at Bankside Chambers (without bias of course).
All of these women have led the way to my being able to move to the bar, and practice as a barrister sole, on my own. And they inspire me to feel optimistic about the road ahead for women in law.
 The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 14 April 2021, https://www.aecf.org/blog/racial-justice-definitions