International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on the 8 March. The campaign for this year’s International Women’s Day was #EachforEqual and the quote for 2020’s campaign is: “An equal world is an enabled world.”

Recent European Union activities on Gender Equality

Last year, Ursula von der Leyen, the current EU Commission President became the first woman to lead the European Union’s 27 Member States. Von der Leyen will lead the EU for five years and has set herself an ambitious goal to achieve gender balance in her Commission and has gained support for her agenda for gender equality. The College of Commissioners for the period of 2019-2024, comprising one representative from each of the 27 EU countries, is made up of 13 women and 14 men, and is the most gender diverse executive team that has been seen yet in EU history.

On the 5th March 2020, the European Commission presented its 2020-2025 Gender Equality Strategy: Striving for a Union of Equality. Currently, no member state has yet achieved equality between men and women and progress has been slow. It has been identified that, despite there being more women who graduate from universities than men, women on average earn 16% less than their male counterparts and, only 8% of CEO’s in Europe’s largest companies are women. According to recent figures released by Eurostat, statistics show that across the EU, women earn less per hour than men. In 2018, women were earning 14.8% less gross hourly earnings than men. The EU’s strategy for gender equality aims to bridge the gaps, which remain in employment, pay, pensions and care by setting out key actions for 2020-2025. These actions include: ensuring participation and opportunities in the labour market, including equal pay; achieving gender-balance in decision-making and politics and ending gender-based violence and stereotypes.

President Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Gender equality is a core principle of the European Union, but it is not yet a reality. In business, politics and society as a whole, we can only reach our full potential if we use all of our talent and diversity. Using only half of the population, half of the ideas or half of the energy is not good enough. With the Gender Equality Strategy, we are pushing for more and faster progress to promote equality between men and women.”

At the plenary session on the 13 February 2020, a resolution was adopted by 463 votes in favour, 108 votes against and 50 abstentions from MEPs, who highlighted that the challenges, which were identified in 1995, 25 years ago by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action are still relevant today. The platform aimed to set principles on the equality of both men and women and called for strategic action in areas such as education, health, economy, violence and decision-making.

Following a plenary debate on 18 December 2019, and International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on 6 February 2020. During last month’s Strasbourg plenary session, MEP’s voted unanimously in favour of a resolution urging the EU to come up with a strategy to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) around the world. This practice is recognised internationally as being a violation of human rights of females. The United Nations seek to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by 2030 and offer support for survivors and carry out awareness raising programmes. Between 16 and 18 March 2020, a delegation from Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) will attend the 64th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York.

UK Law Societies on Gender Equality

Last year, Law Societies’ in the UK celebrated 100 years of women in law, which marked 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act was passed. This act was a revolutionary step, and transformed the legal world of today, as before this act was passed only men were permitted to take solicitor examinations and qualify as lawyers.

In June 2019, the Law Society of England and Wales released its ‘Women in Law Pledge’ in partnership with the Bar Council for England and Wales and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executive. The aim of the pledge is to encourage all legal service providers, in-house teams and individuals to sign up and commit to creating a more equal legal profession for all. The Law Society is this year again, encouraging people to pledge either within their organisation, or as an advocate, and champion for change. They have provided pledge guidance on their website for those who are committed to setting high level targets to make a difference for gender equality in the workplace.

On the 19 February 2020, The Law Society Group released its 2019 gender pay gap report . The report highlights that there has been a reduction in their gender pay gap in 2019 compared with 2018. It also details that around 60% of the Law Society Group workforce is female including many managers in the upper quartile, however, few women are in senior director roles. The Law Society and SRA have targeted actions plans to address this and will carry out an ongoing review of how they recruit and promote females in senior roles.

The Law Society of England and Wales have been invited to attend the 64th UN Commission on the Status of Women Conference, at the UN Headquarters in March 2020. There is to be a discussion on 13 March 2020, about The Law Society of England and Wales’ 2019 report on: “Advocating for Change: Transforming the Future of the Legal Profession through greater Gender Equality.” Nevertheless, their attendance is subject to COVID-19 advice for travel.

The Law Society of Scotland celebrated International Women’s Day 2020 by asking its members to share their stories about the women in law who have inspired them during their career. They also invited women and men who champion gender equality in the legal profession, to drop into the Law Society of Scotland to get their picture taken as part of their ‘Face the future’ campaign. The campaign is run by Next 100 years, the UK’s national campaign, which aims to capture 1,000 people in the legal profession from around the world in order to build a picture of the diverse face of women in law and also the men who support them. Members of the legal profession in Northern Ireland also took part in the #FaceTheFuture project. Bar Chair Sarah Ramsey QC said: “I am delighted to invite members and colleagues from across the world of law to take part in this global event, which will create a fantastic visual gallery of diversity in our profession.” A photoshoot was held on 6 March 2020 at the Inn of Court in the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

UK Law Societies’ Brussels Office on Gender Equality

The UK Law Societies’ Joint Brussels Office currently has a female majority, which is led by Dr Helena Raulus, Head of Office. Our office is active with respect to various issues, with its core objective being to represent, promote and support UK solicitor’s voices in the European Union. Helena is a board member of the British Chamber of Commerce of the EU & Belgium, which facilitates businesses in Belgium and engage with the European Union and its decision making. Furthermore, Helena is also a board member of the European Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), which is an international non-profit association made up of European women lawyers and academics, who co-operate and combine their specific expertise to monitor law and politics from the angle of fundamental rights and in particular gender equality.

The Brussels office ran roundtables on unconscious bias, which contributed to The Law Society of England and Wales report on ‘Advocating for change: Transforming the future of the legal profession through greater equality, International Women in Law Report, Findings from the international women’s roundtables’ (June 2019). The Law Society’s global survey between 2017-2018 found that, the presence of perceived unconscious bias in the legal profession was the most commonly cited reason why so few women reach senior positions. The common key issues highlighted by the report are: traditional gender roles and stereotypes, gender pay gap and flexible working. The report demonstrated that the challenges and experiences faced by female lawyers, despite a few contextual differences, are very similar across the globe.

To find out more about International Women’s Day click here.

#IWD2020 #EachforEqual


Contributors: Nadia Cook, Legal Secondee, Helena Raulus, Head of Brussels Office and Rita Gianinni, EU Policy Advisor