The Faculty marks International Women's Day 2022

The Faculty this year is marking International Women's Day by addressing the 2022 theme of #BreakTheBias in terms of education and research.  The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies has prepared a podcast and a special edition of its newsletter to mark the occasion, plus the Oxford Human Rights Hub is focusing on how education has helped women and girls #BreakTheBias.


We asked three of our Faculty members for their thoughts on the theme of #BreakTheBias in terms of their research and lived experience.

Kristin van Zweiten, Professor of Law and Finance, plays a pivotal role in the Faculty as Associate Dean for Equality and Diversity.  She reflects on gender bias in academia.

There is plentiful evidence of bias against women academics, across disciplines, across jurisdictions, and over time. What a waste! A waste of opportunities to learn from and build upon research already completed, and of opportunities to invest in future research. Further change is needed at every level - including in the ways in which we recognise and use scholarship in teaching and learning environments, the ways in which we interact and collaborate in research settings, the ways we invest in and support early career researchers (and, relatedly, postgraduate research students), and in the design of systems for recruitment and career progression. In our own Faculty, these are all elements of our near finalised Athena Swan action plan for 2022-2027. In a world of grave uncertainty and apparently intractable problems, there really is no more time left to lose.

Photograph of Jonathan Herring
Jonathan Herring, Professor of Law and author of 'Domestic Abuse and Human Rights' (Intersentia 2020) calls for the law to tackle domestic violence more forcefully.

We are experiencing an epidemic of male violence against women.  Online, in the home, on the street or within the workplace women are subjected to sexual, emotional, financial and physical abuse.  For far too long the law has failed to take this violence seriously.  We are beginning to see some exciting legal developments, such as the Istanbul Convention on Violence against Women, but are also seeing the large scale failure in England to prosecute rape.  That Convention rests of four pillars: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Co-ordinated Policies.  It is the last which in a way is key.  There is no single legal intervention which will resolve the issue.  We need a raft of measures legal and non-legal, ranging from better provision of refuges to more incisive prosecution policies to work to a world where women can be safe. 

barbara havelkova
Barbara Havelkova, Associate Professor of Law, researches and teaches gender legal studies and feminist jurisprudence, equality and anti-discrimination law and has written a book on 'Gender Equality in Law: Uncovering the Legacies of Czech State Socialism', (Hart/Bloomsbury 2017). She advocates here for building social structures, including the law, around the person with care responsibilities as the norm.

One of my current projects looks at women judges’ reflections of the existing vertical segregation in the Czech judiciary (co-authoring with David Kosař and Marína Urbánková). The number one barrier appears to stem from women’s double-shift of paid work and unpaid work in the home. While most of our interviewees recognized that this barrier exists, fewer interpreted it as injustice, and even fewer yet refused to accept the responsibility for it themselves and demanded structural change. This humbleness of demands is not an unfamiliar story in other countries and professions.

As legal scholars interested in issues of gender equality, we are – increasingly in general, and especially on this issue - facing a more sophisticated ‘enemy’. It is no longer explicit disparate treatment in law, which has largely been eliminated. It is the assumptions the law makes about who is the ‘norm’, the ‘default’. We should, for example, rethink the doctrine of ‘merit’ in employment decisions. Time spent raising children ought not be seen as a gap in job experience but as time spent acquiring wider-ranging set of important skills (such as keeping another human being alive).

It seems to me that the horrific experience of the pandemic could be turned into a learning experience in terms of fully appreciating the burden of child-care and the challenges of reconciling work and family life for primary carers, mostly women. We should use the momentum of these topics having reached wider public discourse to push for change.

International Women's Day Podcast and newsletter from the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

CSLS IWD newsletter header
The Talking about Methods podcast from The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies has produced an IWD special on 'Feminist Judgements'.
In this special podcast, Professor Linda Mulcahy speaks with Professor Rosemary Hunter (University of Kent), Professor Sharon Cowan (University of Edinburgh), and Professor Aoife O'Donoghue (University of Durham) about various feminist judgments projects in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern/Ireland.

The Centre for Socio-Legal Studies has also curated a selection of blog posts from their Frontiers of Socio-Legal Studies blog which were published over the last year, with Socio-Legal analysis spanning women’s rights, feminism, gender, and the law.  These have been shared in a special edition of their newsletter to mark International Women's Day. Sign-up to receive a copy of this and future newsletters.

Oxford Human Rights Hub members
Oxford Human Rights Hub focuses on how education has helped women and girls #BreakTheBias

The Hub brings the focus back on eductation for girls and gender-minorities, an important tool to realise equality in society.  Members of the Hub express their thoughts on how education has helped them and how it can help bring about a change in society.  You can read more about this on the Oxford Human Rights Hub website.