In this mini-series of posts, the women of the clinic discuss the theme of ‘Break the Bias’, what this means to them, what International Women’s Day means to them, and experience they have that resonates with this year’s theme.
When I first received a request to write something about a time when I had experienced discrimination or been stereotyped, I thought I didn’t have anything suitable to write about- but when I was able to turn my mind to it for more then 5 minutes, I realized I had enough to fill a few pages! All the same it was interesting to me that I felt some hesitation or even resentment at first at being asked to write about these experiences. I think this is because I don’t want to be a separate oppressed class of humanity, I want just to be myself. But I imagine this is how every group who is discriminated against feels- no one wants to be in this box but are placed there by external perceptions and attitudes.
As we heard at our excellent immigration law training yesterday by Sue Conlan, for the purposes of asylum women are identified as a ‘particular social group’ that can be at heightened risk of discrimination and ill treatment. This means that half of all humans are classified as a ‘particular social group.’ To me, this is an example of Simone De Beauvoir’s assessment that women are deemed to deviate from the perceived norm of ‘male’, despite being half the global population.
For me, the gender fluidity movement, if it can be called that, is welcome as it gives people scope to become themselves whilst still recognizing the social groups to which they belong may result in discrimination against them. The discrimination is because of the perception of those social groups by others, not because those social groups have intrinsic characteristics that are ascribed to them (although many in those groups may have those characteristics).
Personally, I have experienced in some workplaces repeated questioning about my decision to not have a family or get married. This has come from both male and female colleagues. The comments could have come straight out of The Office: ‘Get a ring on your finger’, ‘No one likes an old bride’(!), and ‘When are you going to have children?’. These comments feel oppressive because they are based on limited assumptions about an individual wants and needs due to their belonging to a particular social group, rather than taking that individual at face value. Not being known, understood or accepted for who you are is one of the most frustrating experiences because it feels like a refusal to see what makes you you.
There are other things I could write about, but it is important to recognize the very many positive developments that have occurred for women in the profession, and the respect and esteem in which many women are held. I have been very fortunate to work with my female colleagues at the law clinic, who are not only extremely good at what they do but do it every day with grace and compassion. There is something very special at the law clinic of which I feel privileged to be a part, and our student advisers, of all genders, are inspiring to work with and give us all hope for the future of the profession.
So to everyone, happy international women’s day/week/month!
By Gillian Melville, Clinic Supervisor
To receive monthly updates on the work completed by the University of Strathclyde Law Clinic straight to your email, please sign up here.