Women in International Law Network

The Olive Schill Society

By Olga Chetverikova

WILNET would like to welcome Olga Chetverikova to our team. Olga is a PhD student at the School of Law, University of Manchester. Her research interests are mainly in International Economic Law. Her work focuses on the ways International Investment Law and International Trade Law interact with supply chains.

On International Women’s Day, I was privileged to attend a Festival organised by Doughty Street Chambers, which explored the question ‘what more can the law do for women?’ The event celebrated those rare and exceptional women who have chosen to be at the forefront of justice, equality and legal consciousness. An outstanding amount of women from various professional backgrounds gathered for a day of fascinating workshops to try and find practical legal solutions to some of the realities that modern women face in the UK and Ireland. A brief account of the event is provided below.

Panel of Violence against Women and Girls

The pressing issue of violence against women in general, and vulnerable women in institutional settings in particular, was discussed. It is clear that law has to play a stronger and somewhat more active role in protecting the most vulnerable female population in child cases of FGM, forced marriage, and abuse. Ideally primary prevention policies must be further developed as well as secondary and tertiary prevention measures. One practical pathway would be to follow the example of the St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (Manchester) by establishing Family Justice Centres, introduce Complex Cases Review, and raise awareness overall about the potentially devastating effects that adverse childhood experiences could have on the future child’s life.

Panel on Women and Prisons

It was advocated that prisons harm women, as 2016 oversaw 22 women die in prisons, out of which suicides accounted for 12. There is a sense of urgency in uncovering the moral, ethical and financial costs of sending women to prisons. The practical solution to the problem could be further development of Community Centres, Centres for Women Justice, and ‘resettlement programmes’ to ensure the reintegration of women into society, especially those with short sentences.

Panel on Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights of women are gaining their momentum, given that we live in a modern world of surrogacy and gay marriages. The law must grapple with the reality of three or even four parents being listed on a birth certificate. The main question is how the law is going to deal with such new developments. Special attention was also paid to the status of abortion in Ireland. The recently created London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, the London branch of the Abortion Rights Campaign which calls for the repeal of the 8th amendment from the Irish constitution and campaigns for access to free safe legal abortion in Ireland and Northern Ireland, creates an important platform to campaign and raise awareness across the UK.

Ultimately, the participants recognised that the ubiquitous problem that women face is the unwillingness of society to listen. The legal profession is concerned with the fundamental right of a person to be heard, without any reference to gender, ethnicity, or class, and being able to provide professional legal help to those who need it most. The profession, and women working in the profession, therefore, have a role to play in shaping the development of the law to respond to these challenges, and ensuring that women are heard, supported, and protected.

WILNET would also like to express its appreciation to the amazing women (and men) in Doughty Street Chambers for organizing such an inspiring event!