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Editors --- "Sit down Girlie': Legal issues from a feminist perspective" [2000] AltLawJl 34; (2000) 25(2) Alternative Law Journal 86

Legal issues from a feminist perspective

Fantastic feminist function

Girlie was very pleased to attend the illustrious launch of the Feminist Lawyers Mentoring Program on 9 March. The program is designed to provide support and guidance for those feminists new to the profession by more experienced feminists (although Girlie heard many women wondering wist­ fully if they could be both mentor and mentee). The launch was attended by lots of legal luminaries, including a positively packed bench of feminist holders of judicial office. Jenny Coate, patron of the program, gave an inspiring speech, urging us to 'give ourselves permission to shine', thereby lodging a catchy tune into our collective psyches into the bargain. Attorney-General Rob Hulls launched the program and was met with applause when he confirmed that he was intending to reintroduce Crimes Compensation and a Law Re­ form Commission sooner rather than later. He confused the feminist-filled function a trifle however when, explaining his excitement at finally being able to implement the changes he'd al­ ways dreamed about, he said that he'd always wanted to be the chief law officer of the State of Victoria, even though most of us would have grown up wanting to play Full Forward for Essendon (or some such position, Girlie was so swept away by her fond memories of Saturday morning training that she wasn't paying attention). Afterwards of course we all stood around clutching stubbies, belted out a gutsy rendition of 'Good 01' Feminists Forever', and gave a couple of post-launch door-stops before hitting the showers to slap each other with wet towels. The winner, on the day, was feminism.

Womentoring in the US

It seems this wonderful idea is not just exclusive to Australia, with the American Bar Association Multicultural Women Attorneys Network publishing a book entitled: Dear Sisters, Dear Daughters: Words of Wisdom from Multicultural Women Attorneys Who Have Been There and Done That. The book is a collection of letters written by minority women lawyers to young women from minority backgrounds who have just graduated from law school. The book identifies mentoring as extremely important and serves as an encouragement to minority women in the legal profession to stand up for themselves, trust their own judgment and 'speak their own truth'. The ABA also has a Minority Counsel Program, now 12 years old, developed to en­ courage corporations to retain lawyers from minority backgrounds for legal services. This program has recently been restructured with the Minority In-House Counsel Group established to encourage a broad- based approach across the whole profession. Similarly the Conference of Minority Partners, now with 560 law firm partners from minority back­ grounds, provides a professional support network. Dare Girlie suggest that we cast our eyes across the Pacific for inspiration?

It's just not cricket

Also in the US, the issue of discrimination and private clubs has arisen, this time on the golf course. The membership of many private country clubs is still exclusively or predominantly male, with many women restricted to 'limited membership'. Limited membership means limited access to the club's facilities and, in this case, to the prime tee times, being mainly weekend mornings (of course, women don't have jobs to go to during the week, so they can idle their Wednesday mornings away on the golf course). Further, junior memberships for members' children are restricted to boys only! However, the Massachusetts Superior Court held last year that such clubs are 'public accommodations' and therefore subject to anti-discrimination laws. Similar decisions have also been reached in Pennsylvania and Ohio, threatening the very fabric of American civilisation as we know it ...

Rape law reform

While he can't quite summon the courage to take the full paternity leave entitled to him under British law, it seems that Tony Blair does have a bit of guts when it comes to rape law reform. Significant proposed reforms will see the burden of proof reversed, with defendants pleading a consent defence having to prove that willing consent existed. Additionally, the right of defendants to cross-examine their accuser in person has been removed, following a series of horrific cases in which survivors of rape were put through prolonged cross-examinations by their attackers. In one particular case, a woman was cross-examined for six days by her attacker, who was wearing the same clothes in which he raped her.

Civil rights commentators in Britain have ex­ pressed concern about the proposed reforms, a significant reversal of the fundamental notion that, in a criminal trial, the prosecution bears the onus of proof. There are certainly no signs of such a reversal happening in Australia, with the prosecution still bearing the burden of having to prove that there was no consent to the sexual act.

Girlie suggests, however, that the concerns obviously held by the British courts and parliament regarding perpetrators of violence cross-examining their victims be considered by our es­ teemed national leadership in the con­ text of the Family Court, where the gaping hole in legal aid has led many victims of domestic violence to be subject to days of cross-examination by their violent spouses.

A bit rich for my blood

UK women have won their battle for a reduction in value added tax on tampons. The value added tax is the equiva­ lent of Australia's GST, and the campaign victory means that the tax could fall from 17.5% to as little as 5% (mysterious European Commission rules prevent the tax being scrapped al­ together). Sanitary products (don't you just love that word) were classified as luxury items in Britain in the 1970s, and they have been unable to shake this classification until now. It is estimated that the reduction will save British women approximately $AI 03 million a year, although a recently released study contains suggestions by medical professionals that women don't actually need to menstruate as often as they do, considering the ability of the contraceptive pill to stop menstruation altogether. Seems that hedonistic Girlie has been indulging in the luxury of unneccessary menstruation all these years. What with the reckless hedonism of all those childless girlies out there, no wonder they want us to show a bit of responsibility and cough up 10%!

Curious appendages

The Italian Supreme Court has ruled that 'playing footsie' is not an unlawful activity, after an Italian Professor who was jailed for playing unwelcome 'footsie' with one of his students. The Court ruled that it was 'certainly not body contact' and therefore could not be considered to be 'unequivocal manifestation of the sexual instinct'. Girlie wonders if roaming hands fall into the same mysterious category of poor delinquent appendages, spasming helplessly in the presence of young women...

Wanda Ringhans

Wanda is a Feminist Lawyer

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