The Historical Exclusion of Women from the legal profession- A Global Perspective. History is rich in its depictions of old professions, their evolution with time and the way they are shaped presently. Dynamic societies, changing demographics, increased access to education, change in perceptions on gender roles, transformations of the law- all these have revolutionized today’s professions.
Now, women are allowed to gain entry into professions that were hitherto barred to them. Studying women’s progression is crucial because of the rarity of such studies. This historical examination will create an adequate context for understanding women’s professional employment in the past, the present and pave the way for an improved future.
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Hence, the previously male-dominated legal profession, and its historical exclusion of women, will be the focal point of this part of the research. In so doing, a case study will be presented on the United States, the United Kingdom and Mauritius.
Noteworthy are the major hurdles faced by women in achieving entry into the legal profession:
First, decades ago, special legislation was needed in many countries to open the doors to women.
Secondly, women had moderate difficulty in obtaining financial and family support to initiate their legal studies.
Third, after acquiring the legal status to plead in court, the fight for employment ensued.
Then, after many years of struggle, personal qualifications started to count more than social status or gender.
Finally the last hurdle was to quash the latent belief that women were not fit for the hardships of legal work.
Case Study: The United States
In the America of the 1800s the legal profession, similarly to medicine and politics, was closed to women. The quote below sheds light on the situation:
“Nature has tempered women as little for the judicial conflicts of the courtroom as for the physical conflicts of the battlefieldÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ OurÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ profession has essentiallyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ to do with all that is selfish and extortionate, knavish and criminal, coarse and brutal, repulsive and obscene in human life. It would be revolting to all female sense of innocence and the sanctity of their sex.”
(Chief Justice Ryan of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, opposing admitting Lavinia Goodell to the bar, 1895, cited in Epstein, 1993, p. 269)
Despite Justice Ryan’s vivid language, the reasons for men’s resistance to women lawyers “likely has to do with the law’s close relationship to power in our society.”(Morello, 1986, cited in Martin and Jurik, 2007, p. 107) According to Epstein (1993, p. 13):
members of the legal elite preside over power and property relationships;
they play a leading role in the legislative and regulative bodies that write the law;
they direct the executive agencies responsible for enforcing the law;
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