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Ladies of justice

The Greek goddess Justitia, blindfolded and holding a beam balance and sword, has been the allegorical personification of justice since ancient Roman times.

Despite this glorious picture of equality, women have not been treated fairly in the legal profession.

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A gender-bias survey revealed that only 17.4 percent of women are granted partnership in US law firms. According to the study, clients make wrong assumptions about female lawyers solely based on their gender. These misogynistic clients assume that female lawyers cannot manage tense negotiations or adversarial litigation. On top of this, women face the constant problem of sexual harassment in the workplace (Joyce Smithey, “Women and the Legal Profession: Four Common Obstacles Faced by Female Lawyers,” 2017).

Out of 114 associate justices of the US Supreme Court, only four females, or 3.5 percent, have been appointed since 1789, namely: Associate Justices O’Connor, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Two of the four are incumbent justices of the US Court.

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Contrasting these statistics with the Philippine experience, out of 187 associate justices of the Philippine Supreme Court since 1901, 16 or 8.5 percent have been female appointees. While women have already been appointed as chief justice of our Supreme Court, no woman has ever been appointed chief justice of the US Supreme Court. In this regard, the Philippines is outperforming the United States in equalizing opportunities to sit in the highest court of the land, and one of the highest positions to aim for in a legal career.

Under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), states have the obligation to ensure “equal rights of men and women to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.” Cedaw unequivocally declares that discrimination against women violates the fundamental principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity. Gender discrimination also directly hampers the growth of society and “makes more difficult the full development of the potentialities of women in the service of their countries and of humanity.” The Philippines ratified Cedaw on Aug. 5, 1981 and has since been securing more opportunities for women.

Fortunately, times are changing, at least in our country. The country’s legal system has been effectively balancing opportunities for women in law schools and in law practice. Men and women work together to create an unbiased working culture in law firms across the country.

When I was in law school five years ago, more than 60 percent of my class was composed of women. Yearly, more than 50 percent of women hurdle the bar exams. In fact, eight out of the top 10 in the 2019 bar results were women. In San Beda College of Law-Alabang where I teach, there are a number of distinguished and well-accomplished women professors. Intelligent, empathetic, and hard-working women also serve as law school deans, including UP Law Dean Fides C. Cordero-Tan.

The Philippine Women Judges Association Inc. has been consistently hosting annual conventions since 1987 for women judges and justices. According to the PWJA’s 2020 convention, out of 2,024 judges and justices in the country, 50.49 percent are women.

Indeed, equal protection of the law is the lifeblood of our nation’s democracy. To allow arbitrary gender-based discrimination in exercising one’s lawful profession is to sanction clear human rights violations. The Cedaw mandate and Philippine government policies have so far led to greater opportunities for empowered Filipino women in law schools and the legal profession. This is something all Filipinos should be proud of, and should continue to foster well into the future.

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Marlon Iñigo T. Tronqued took international law under the UP LLM program. (Interested applicants may visit https://law.upd.edu.ph/llm/.) He dedicates this piece to his wife and to all women who valiantly serve in the legal profession.

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TAGS: Commentary, female judges, Marlon Iñigo T. Tronqued
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