The recent celebration of International Women’s Day is a good time to pause and reflect on the valued contributions by women around the world. It’s also a chance to consider some of the roles of women in the Canadian Family Justice system. Especially female lawyers.
Historically, women have had two key roles: 1) as litigants in a divorce or other family dispute; and 2) as lawyers who operate within the system to represent members of the public in those same types of disputes.
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As litigants, women have struggled for fair treatment and equality in obtaining justice. They have faced obstacles to gaining access in the first place. Then they have faced differential treatment when they became participants. Fortunately, in recent years this has changed for the better. Access-to-justice initiatives by the government and grassroots organization have helped women take advantage of the legal system like never before. There is a much greater awareness of gender discrimination issues. Family law legislation has been amended to redress historic inequalities.
There has also been an increase in female lawyers in the province. According to the Law Society of Ontario’s latest “Statistical Snapshot of Lawyers in Ontario” over 45 percent of the province’s lawyers are women. There has also been a corresponding rise in female experts in Family Law.
Why is This Important?
Nobody doubts that male lawyers are fully capable of representing female litigants. History proves this. But especially for those women who are disadvantaged or downtrodden in some respect, having a female lawyer can be truly life-changing.
For example, when female litigants freshly extricate themselves from difficult marriages or relationship, they are often unsure. They may not be aware of their full legal entitlements. They may be unfamiliar with and mistrustful of the system. Having the help of an understanding and capable female Family lawyer can enlighten them to their rights. It can give them the roadmap to asserting themselves legally.
Traditional Gender Roles
Next, many women litigants face financial challenges when divorcing, often because they have played traditional gender roles during the marriage. They may be facing new obligations that are foreign to them. This includes inching their way towards post-divorce self-sufficiency. A female Family lawyer may have a better awareness of the unique tensions between a woman’s family obligations to children, and her new duty to provide for the family economically. A lawyer who has experience in shepherding women through this transition will best empower them to move forward on their own.
We Have Your Back!
Assuredly, there are still obstacles. But the advantages of having female lawyers in the Canadian legal system is palpable, and undeniable. We see it here “in the trenches” at the Shulman & Partners. Some of our female clients tell us they take extra comfort in having a female lawyer represent them.
But here at our Firm, it goes farther than that. We are collectively very proud of our awareness and proactivity around the unique challenges women face. We are sensitive to the issue of gender inequality, and have several pro-active initiatives in that regard. Our staff lawyers are all Family Law experts – of both genders. Each of them is well-versed and experienced in addressing the systemic hurdles that women face when seeking judicial remedies. More importantly, they are adept at circumventing them.
Some women have never been allowed to have a strong voice. Many others have been actively discouraged from empowering themselves. All of them deserve justice. Having a sensitive, capable representative – one that appreciates the unique legal journey and struggles of women – can truly make the difference.
To all our readers: Happy International Women’s Day, and happy Women’s History Month!