Cambridge University Society for Women Lawyers

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Justice, Empowerment and Women In Law

This year, we are thrilled to partner with UN Women Cambridge. Together, we will be working towards achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 in promoting gender equality and furthering the empowerment of women and girls. 

We aim to contribute to the discussion on gender equality and address specific issues faced by women across different ethnic, class, faith and racial backgrounds. 

COVID-19 has worsened conditions for women globally, with grievous spikes in gender-based violence, a transformation in regard to the inequities of unpaid care work and much more. 

Through our partnership with UN Women Cambridge, we will seek to explore and further understand the issues faced by women through an intersectional lens, focusing on access to justice, empowerment and creating a diverse and supportive Women’s Network for University of Cambridge students.


Women in the Workforce

While women form a crucial part of our working population, there are still fundamental inequalities relating to access, pay and expectations which significantly undermine efforts to respect, value and encourage women to participate fully and actively across all working sectors.


It is deeply troubling that in our current world, UN sources reveal that 2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same choice of jobs as men. Of 189 economies assessed in 2015, 104 economies still have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs, 59 economies have no laws on sexual harassment in the workplace and in 18 economies, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.

Furthermore, women still remain far less likely to participate in the labour market than men across the globe, with labour force participation for women aged 25-54 at 63% compared to 94% for men in 2018.

These staggering legal barriers undermine a key function of the law which is to promote social justice and protect the rights and liberties of citizens. It leaves a fundamental proportion of our global population underrepresented in industry and the boardroom, where many women are not even physically present or given the opportunity to influence key decision making. This results in one-sided determinations, which lack sufficient diversity of thought and experience but often affect a large proportion of society.


It is clear that globally, women are still paid less than men with the gender wage gap estimated at 23%. However, these figures may in fact understate the real extent of gender pay gaps in countries where informal self-employment remains prevalent. According to the UN, this means that women earn 77% of male incomes.

It is also important to consider that women tend to spend 2.5 times longer on unpaid care and domestic work than men which has negatively correlated with female labour force participation. UN estimations suggest that if women's unpaid work was assigned a monetary value, it would constitute between 10-39% of the GDP.


It is clear that violence and harassment in the world of work affects women regardless of their age, location, income or social status. This results in social, human and economic costs which UN statistics estimate equate to USD 12 trillion annually.

Furthermore, only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. It is crucial that women not only have the opportunity to work and are not legally hindered, but that they are also free from societal or gendered pressures which might otherwise prevent them from attaining high leadership positions. Women who are capable and experienced should be able to access platforms of influence and power where they have been previously excluded or discouraged as a result of violence, harrassement and lowered expectations arising from prejudice.


Violence and Harassment

Setting aside issues of access and opportunity, many women are still affected by domestic violence and workplace harassment resulting in emotional, physical and mental harm which can have serious impacts on their ability to participate fully in society and the workforce.

Domestic Abuse

According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), it is estimated that 1.6 million women aged 16-74 experienced domestic abuse in 2019. It is clear that Covid-19 has had a significant effect in this area with 67.4% of women experiencing domestic abuse finding the abuse had worsened since the start of Covid-19 as a result of having to spend more time with their abusers (Women's Aid). Women in these vulnerable positions revealed that their loss of support systems and the use of Covid as a tool for abuse seriously impacted their health and wellbeing.

It is crucial that greater efforts are made to support women in these challenging home environments in order to enable them to regain their independence and confidence through a supportive and inspiring work environment. When women are enabled to reach their potential in the workplace, it has wide reaching benefits in the home and all other areas of life.


Harassment remains a real and present issue for women in the workplace. UN statistics show that 1 in 10 women in the EU report have experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15, in the form of unwanted, offensive, sexually explicit correspondence or offensive, inappropriate advances on social networking sites.

Results from a national Australian survey also show that almost 39% of women aged 15 and over have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace compared to 26% of men. In 79% of cases one or more of the perpetrators were male.

UN statistics show that 82% of women parliamentarians who participated in a study by the Inter-parliamentary Union in 39 countries have experienced some form of psychological violence, in the form of remarks, gestures, images, threats and/or mobbing. Social media is the main channel through which this violence is perpetrated. 44% reported having received death, rape, assault or abduction threats and 65% have been subjected to sexist remarks.

It is crucial that these issues are properly addressed, providing women the freedom and opportunity to fully participate in our workforce and properly represent a crucial section of our society. Therefore, we aim to encourage greater discussion and progression as we work with UN Women Cambridge this year to ensure that women and girls feel empowered and encouraged as they enter our global workforce.