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Top Equality Lawyer Calls for Greater Diversity at University of Worcester Lecture

A top equality and human rights lawyer has called for greater gender diversity in the courts and in Parliament, during a lecture at the University of Worcester, in which she reflected on how the law has treated women.

Karon Monaghan QC spoke to University students, staff and members of the public about how changes to the law have helped address discrimination and inequality against women, but said there was still some way to go.

“We must acknowledge that there has been progress, but its right to look at that progress through a critical lens,” she said.

Called to the bar in 1989, Ms Monaghan QC, from Matrix Chambers, specialises in equality and discrimination law, human rights and EU law, and has acted in a number of high-profile cases, such as the French burqa ban.

In the lecture, at The Hive, she looked at how the law had played out in specific court cases, and the challenges that are still to be overcome.

“We don’t have a lot to thank the law for as women, at least until the recent past,” she said.

Ms Monaghan QC said the introduction of laws to address discrimination and inequality had had a limited impact on women’s lives, pointing to the gender pay gap, sexual harassment in the workplace and abortion laws.

She said there remained “laws that in my view entrench demeaning attitudes towards women and deprive them of proper autonomy”.

“Yes, we have made progress, but we’re still seeing discriminatory laws and more recent laws that are discriminatory in nature.”

During the lecture she made a plea for more gender diversity in Parliament and the courts. Despite women being in the minority in the House of Commons, making up just over 30 per cent, Ms Monaghan QC said history showed it was female parliamentarians who had driven through most of the country’s most progressive gender equality laws. She suggested that having women in the judiciary also made a difference and was needed for democratic legitimacy. Reflecting on female judges, she said: “To my mind careful reading of decisions where gender is an issue and there is a woman on the court, one often can see a real difference in tone or approach.”

Chris Monaghan, Senior Lecturer in the University’s School of Law, said: “For our students this lecture was a great opportunity and will encourage them to pursue a career in equality law. It was also fantastic that students studying Disability Law were able to speak with Karon after the lecture. Many of our students already volunteer in our Legal Advice Clinic, which offers free legal advice to the public, and this lecture demonstrated the need for lawyers to represent the most vulnerable in society.”

The School of Law hosts a number of lectures and seminars throughout the year open to University students, staff and members of the public. For more information email J.Robins@worc.ac.uk.