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Last Updated Tuesday August 21 2018 07:59 PM IST

It takes a woman to understand another; why this lawyer is battling for gender equality

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Baroness Helena Kennedy

With crimes against women a feature in the developed as well as developing world, there is a pressing need for more female presence in the bench and bar than just a token few faces to ensure proper consideration and justice to the victims, says a prominent British woman jurist.

"Courts hear matters of rape, domestic violence, harassment from (the perspective of) male experience... and the victims are shamed and blamed.

"There is a prevailing perception that these women are not good enough or have brought the trouble on themselves," says Baroness Helena Kennedy, a Queen's Counsel, and a human rights law, civil liberty and constitutional expert who has been involved in many high-profile criminal cases -- including those with a terror element -- for over three decades.

The eminent lawyer has written about this aspect in "Eve was Framed: Women and British Justice" (1993) which argues that women taking recourse to law face judges' prejudices, jurors' misconceptions, labyrinthine court procedures and media influence. She said this was due to the fact that women were not represented adequately in the institution.

"There is a lack of women.. it was only recently (in October 2017) that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom got its second woman judge (Jill Black) while a woman was elected its president (Brenda Marjorie Hale).

"Women lawyers are also less. Most chambers don't even have a single woman member and after the law requiring that they must have one at least, they have complied with it -- to have just one," Baroness Kennedy, who was here for a literary festival, told IANS in an interview. She noted that the situation was similar in India.

She also stressed that just one or two appointments wouldn't make a difference for these women get isolated, and it is also seen that the women selected or promoted are those "whom men feel comfortable with, women who are not difficult".

"The system makes tweaks to help itself... the system is itself the problem, since its run mostly by men.

"We don't need just one or two women... a critical mass must be reached, a quantum leap is needed," said Kennedy, who has also written and broadcast on a wide range of issues, from medical negligence to terrorism to the rights of women and children.

She also contended that women also suffer in crimes against them with even police don't seeing them as "serious crimes" while a woman who walks out of an abusive or violent relationship is at the same or even more risk.

And domestic violence is not limited to tradition-bound societies in the developing world but also crops up in many parts of the developed world, including Britain.

Kennedy, who is also on the board of the prestigious Booker Prize, recalled that once they were holding an event in Spain where the topic of domestic violence came up.

While many Spanish women confessed to having faced it or knowing someone who had, they were surprised to know it was a problem in Britain too. "They didn't think it happened in England too," she said.

She also noted the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood and the Jimmy Savile scandal earlier in her own country, where the DJ, television and radio personality faced multitudes of complaints after his death in 2011, had also "opened up the problems of abuse at the workplace" and this was also due to the lack of women in top positions.

"These are more vile as women are more powerless, very vulnerable... There are only a few women in top positions, say Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, but there is no women among the billionaires," she said.

But Kennedy said that she was hopeful that the future would be different.

"Women are increasingly going into higher education... they are not standing for lower status, they are more confident, more expressive. It is also needed that good men call out against it... there are already men who treat women as equals in workplaces.

"It won't happen overnight... but will, with cumulative effect, become a tsunami," she said.

Read: Women Issues | French star Isabelle Huppert glad women are speaking up about harassment

The opinions expressed here do not reflect those of Malayala Manorama. Legal action under the IT Act will be taken against those making derogatory and obscene statements.

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