On 31 March, Mikiko Otani, ICJ’s Commissioner and a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, spoke to Filipino lawyers at the bi-annual National Lawyers’ Conference of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), which took place at the Iloilo Convention Center, Iloilo City.
Mikiko Otani, who had been Chair of the Committee on International Human Rights of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) remains active in the JFBA, talked about the importance of advancing gender equality in the legal profession and the important initiatives of the JFBA on eliminating gender discrimination.
She noted that “female lawyers experience many forms of discrimination in the workplaces, practices, court rooms and bar associations.”
In countries all over the world, many formal barriers women used to face in entering the legal profession, including admission to law schools, the bar, have been eliminated.
However, women continue to face barriers, some of which are specific to the legal profession, but others common to women who work more generally.
Mikiko Otani noted that when she started practice as a lawyer in 1990, women applicants for jobs at law firms would often be asked during the interview whether they planned on getting married or having children.
Law firms preferred to hire male lawyers as they were thought to be unencumbered with looking after household matters, such as housekeeping and child care.
She recalled, “My colleagues questioned my decision to get married and have children almost immediately after becoming a lawyer while also continuing my practice as this was an unusual for women lawyers in Japan to do at that time. They felt that my decision to start a family at that point would be a hindrance to my career.”
She also talked about the bias observed in case assignment, where only male lawyers would be assigned to cases that required extensive traveling, while female lawyers would be often assigned to family cases, which are considered to be easy, unpopular or low-profile cases.
There was also frequent bias against female lawyers in promotion or offering partnership in law firms, contributing to a major gender gap in income between male and female lawyers.
In 2008, the JFBA formulated a Basic Plan which included the study of inequalities between male and female lawyers in Japan, finding ways to ensure a work-life balance for women, creating complaint handling bodies, and hosting trainings and educational activities in order to promote gender equality.
Mikiko Otani’s remarks resonated among many female lawyers in the Philippines, who shared in the discussion that followed that they face the same challenges.
“As lawyers, it is our responsibility to assist everyone, including women, in accessing justice,” said Marienne Ibadlit, a member of the Board of Governors of the IBP.
“We cannot be faithful to this responsibility if within our profession, we perpetuate gendered relationships and social inequalities that discriminate against women. A bar association that is committed to gender equality is a prerequisite to a justice system that does not discriminate against women and ensures the full enjoyment of women of their human rights.”
Emerlynne Gil, Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t: +662 619 8477 (ext. 206) ; e: emerlynne.gil(a)icj.org