Women and the Law: Successes and Letdowns

by Laura-Camille on February 22, 2017 - 10:55pm

The Dictionary of Sociolinguistics (Swann, Deumert, Lillis, 2004) defines feminism as a movement that advocates the equality of genders from a social, cultural, political and economic perspective. This movement has increased in popularity in the last decades, and events like the Women’s March* tend to indicate that the status of women in society is improving. However, in a developed country filled with opportunities like Canada and the United States of America, the need for feminism has been challenged by some groups of people. Indeed, feminism translates in different ways from one country to another. The relationship of women with the law says a lot about the status of women in certain countries, whether it is in Canada, USA, or even Sierra Leone. Recent events in these countries have shed light on the reality of women’s status and rights in their respective countries.

We do not need to look far back in history to know that our laws have previously failed women. The fact that a country is developed and values more progressive, liberal, ideas most of the time does not exclude its justice system from neglecting women, or even more, diminishing their human rights. In Canada, the disappointing inquiry on the murder and missing indigenous women is an example of this flaw in our justice system. CTV News reported this story in an article published on February 7,2017 (no author).

In 2014, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) revealed that in the past 30 years, at least 1200 aboriginal women had gone missing and/or were murdered. This statistic is alarming, as such numbers indicate that these women are overrepresented four times more as victims of violent crimes than their average representation in the country. The main reason that arose to explain this crisis is that the police force is accused of neglecting investigations, or under-investigating crimes against indigenous women. As a response to pressures from the families of these women and organizations to investigate, the Canadian government finally introduced the National inquiry (defined as a formal investigation into one or multiple incidents of the same nature) into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in September 2016. This initiative was awaited from the public for years, but as of today, its inefficiency is disappointing. CTV News cites Aboriginal lawyer and politician Pam Palmater, where she states that it is ‘’completely unrealistic’’ for the inquiry to release an ‘’in-depth interim report’’ by its deadline in November 2017, as it promised it would. The lengthy procedures and minimal efforts provide evidence that beyond this situation being an Aboriginal issue, it is also a feminist issue. Amongst other things, the inquiry’s stated that it would not necessarily investigate possible police wrongdoing, including sexual assault allegations, because of the economic implications of such measures, and focus on ‘’the heart of the matter’’. Although the inquiry is still recent, the commissioners’ investigations to date seem to be stagnant. Hence, the prejudice and poor status of Aboriginal women translates in the minimality of efforts to fight their oppression. However, the Inquiry still has time to repent itself in the next few months, and the feminist population must continue to be vocal about the issue.

Just south of the border, another shocking event took place in Oklahoma, USA on February 14th 2017; State Representative Justin Humphrey submitted a bill that would obligate women to ‘’get the written consent of the fetus’s father before obtaining an abortion’’. Sandhya Somashekhar and Amy B. Wang wrote an article about this politician’s actions, which was published by the Washington Post (February 14, 2017). Humphrey also stated that women are merely ‘’hosts’’, and if they are responsible, they should not complain because they ‘’invited that in’’. These controversial and sexist statements have provoked passionate reactions on social media platforms. In many similar cases, the involvement of the public is crucial because it can influence other politicians to stand up to violations of human rights. Moreover, Somashekhar and Wang highlight that this event seems like an outrageous flashback to Pennsylvania pre-1992, when women had to get her husband’s permission before getting and abortion. Unfortunately, contrary to some assumptions and arguments of anti-feminists, Humphrey’s comments are evidence that women are not treated equally to men, even in a developed country like the United States.

Conversely, nearly 9000 kilometers away, in Sierra Leone, lawyers just celebrated the 20-year anniversary of L.A.W.Y.E.R.S (Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice), an organization founded by young female lawyers dedicated to defending, protecting and promoting women’s and girls’ human rights in the country. The article written by Ahmed Sahid Nasralla for the Sierra Express Media (published on February 15, 2017) explains the progress and success the organization has had in the past two decades. The war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, where thousands of women and girls were abducted and raped, lead to the creation of the organization, and it has had many accomplishments since. The biggest and most impactful one was the organization’s lead role in the enactment of the Three Genders Act (2007), which includes acts on sexual offences and domestic violence, which women are often victims of in this country. Additionally, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S has given itself the mission of educating and sensitizing the population about women’s and girl’s rights. Therefore, this successful initiative proves that feminism is present and necessary in every country of the world. Furthermore, the organization’s success is proof that standing up to injustices can actually help.

I believe that false assumptions about our ‘’flawless’’ judicial system in Canada and the ‘’hopeless’’ and ‘’never-ending’’ oppression of women in developing countries lead to a misconception of women’s rights and to a false portrayal of the relationship between women and the law. There have been success stories and there have been letdowns, and both should serve as motivation for a population, no matter the country, to stand up for the respect of women’s human rights. I strongly believe that the voice of the people matters, and that this is how laws can change and prejudice can be fought. Therefore, non-violent protests can go a long way in North America as much as in Africa.

*A worldwide protest that took place on January 21, 2017, advocating legislation and policies concerning human rights, including, inter alia, women’s rights.


For the complete CTV News article, Inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women won't meet crucial deadline: critic,click on the following link: http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/inquiry-into-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-won-t-meet-crucial-deadline-critic-1.3275332

For more information about this story and the events leading to the inquiry, the following articles may be useful:



For the Washington Post article, Lawmaker who called pregnant women a ‘host’ pushes bill requiring fathers to approve abortion , consult this link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/02/14/oklahoma-bill-would-require-father-of-fetus-to-approve-abortion/?utm_term=.625786787d6e.

For Nasralla’s article in the Sierra Express Media, Girls, Women, the Law & Valentine’s Day, consult the following link: http://sierraexpressmedia.com/?p=80336.


Firstly, I just want to say that I completely agree with your point on the misconception of women’s rights being far more progressive than they are in the West and the false portrayal of the “’never-ending’ oppression” women face in the developing world. Although the law is seemingly more equitable towards women in the West, their relationship with the law (as you mentioned) is often not. The need for feminism and the notion of sexism even existing in modern Western liberal democracies is something that is still contested and its denial is immoral under a number of ethical frameworks.

From a deontological perspective, individuals simply shouldn’t treat others in ways they wouldn’t want to be treated themselves. Therefore, it would be immoral to apply the law differently to different groups of people, such as in the case of the missing Indigenous women, whose families continue to be deprived of the justice they rightfully deserve.

From the point of a view of virtue ethics and teleology, denying sexism in the West is both not virtuous and has harmful implications. Under the framework of virtue ethics, believing that we have achieved gender equality could lead to moral licensing, whereby people ignore the micro and macro-aggressions women continue to face in society because under the law, their status is seemingly equal to that of men. Moral licensing is not acceptable under virtue ethics because moral agents should continually seek to be virtuous. Similarly, according to consequence-based ethics, believing that the justice system is “flawless” leads to detrimental outcomes. Since the society feels as though they’ve already done enough, women’s issues tend to be ignored, which not only lacks a solution to the specific problem at hand, but also stifles the improvement of women’s rights.

I think the utilitarian perspective is the most convincing way to frame this argument. Although virtue ethics works in solving this dilemma, it only looks at the problem from an individual level, whereas utilitarianism considers how the entire society ought to behave in order to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest amount of people. This is far more impactful when advocating for long-term social change. Deontology could also work, but insofar as we live in a society where different groups of people are perceived differently due to their gender, ethnicity, or otherwise, and consequently, are subject to different implicit standards on how they ought be treated, the practicality of deontology and applying these absolute maxims on moral behaviour is difficult.

About the author

Small town girl (livin' in a lonely world) passionate about music, peace, human rights and universal love. People that surround me sometimes say that I should not talk about certain "controversial" issues, but I am stubborn and persuasive.