Book: Can law be re-written with women in mind?

New book from WLIA Fellow, Dr Ramona Vijeyarasa: International Women’s Rights Law and Gender Equality: Making the law work for womenn

One of the (not many) benefits of lockdown has been getting to know our neighbourhoods in ways that hark back to years long gone. A certain unexpected highlight for me has been becoming acquainted with my local postie, a familiarity that reminds me of my childhood living in the suburbs of Sydney.

His arrival, one sunny lock-dow n day, with a rather heavy box, was a particular high point as it contained my copies of International

Women’s Rights Law and Gender Equality:

Making the law work for women.

Thanks to funding from the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, we managed to transform, at a record-breaking pace, a workshop in August of last year that brought together global gender experts into a book that was published this year (by Routledge) and launched at a webinar in collaboration with UTS’ Centre for Social Justice and Inclusion and attended by over 300 people keen to see a more profound shift in how we address gender inequality in this country.

I had the privilege of leading the collaborators through this process as editor of this collective work on how to make law more effective in advancing women’s rights. The book navigates across various areas of law to explore the opportunities, and obstacles, to make legislation better for women.

So what does the book have to offer?

Some chapters discuss topics more typical to gender debates—gender-based violence, inequality at work, women’s reproductive rights, and the value of gender-equality quotas in parliament, all fundamental issues that have been a core part of advocacy for law reform around the world for many years.

Other chapters push the boundaries in a different way. They bring this gender lens to explore areas of law often hastily dubbed gender-neutral and for which a gender perspective is often left wanting. This includes issues such as taxation, corruption, and environmental regulation. Many of the laws analysed are Australian but the book also benefits from failed and successful law reform from across the world. It brings examples from countries as diverse as India, Nepal, Rwanda, Kenya, Scotland, South Africa, the U.K, and the U.S.

Who might want to grab a copy?

International Women’s Rights Law and Gender Equality: Making the law work for women is a call that I hope motivates advocates for change to broaden our expertise. We—women’s rights scholars, advocates, legislators, and business people—are too quick to accept the status quo which often results in laws written with little recognition of the important differences in how different groups of people, including different women, experience the law.

Without the skills, data and expertise at hand, we often do not know how to bring a gender perspective to particular areas of law. Reforming taxation or environment law to account for women’s needs and interests, consequently, is often put into the ‘too hard’ basket. While not easy, we need to build the capacity of women experts to sit at the legal drafter’s table beyond more gender-typical areas of law reform if we are going to see change across a broad spectrum of laws.

The book’s hopeful notes

This book contains the ingredients for lawmakers to write laws that work more effectively in responding to the specific needs and interests of different groups of women. As my 7-year-old daughter unpacks Australian history at school, grappling with how Indigenous communities experienced the arrival of settler colonizers on their land, I reflect on how much there is to gain in embracing the knowledge of Indigenous scholars. One of my favourite chapters from this collection—Rowena Maguire’s on the environmental regulation, gender and race—is enlightened by the brilliant reflections of First Nations women scholars such as Professors Marcia Langton, Irene Watson and Aileen Moreton-Robinson, who call for a new understanding of environmental law centered around caring for country and not environmental domination.

The ideas in this book may also invite business leaders to re-evaluate their workplace practices to move away from the male-centric understanding of industrial relations law from many years ago. It also offers well-researched suggestions to inform current debates on how Australia’s paid parental leave scheme needs a rethink if we are going to shift the ingrained stereotypes and practices in our society on parenting responsibilities. This book, I hope, also offers some inspiration for what difference the greater presence of women in politics may bring to the legal landscape. Parity in politics cannot guarantee the enactment of more ‘women-friendly’ laws. However, with more women, including feminist legislators and gender-sensitive auditors of draft bills, it certainly has the potential to shift the way laws are drafted in Australia and elsewhere.

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