Women and the Law

Synopsis

As the millennium draws to a close, it is clear that equality between men and women remains a pipe-dream. Thus argues Sandra Fredman in her stimulating, new book on women and the law. Women's pay still lags significantly behind that of men; and women continue to congregate in low status, low paid jobs. Yet men and women are now formally equal before the law: indeed, legislation positively outlawing discrimination has been in force for over two decades both in the UK and the European Union. The key question asked by the author is: Why has the law had so little impact? The answer, the author argues, lies in the structure of the law itself. In a wide-ranging examination of sources drawn from political theory, social history and law, the first part of the book develops a critical framework to illuminate the limitations of the law in addressing women's disadvantaged status. In particular, the author unmask the apparent objectivity and neutrality of law, exposing the assumptions which have systematically impeded women's progress. Part II of the book applies this critique to a detailed examination of key legal issues in the UK and EU, with illuminating references to the law in North America and Australia. The result is an original and incisive analysis of pressing legal issues ranging from low pay, sexual harassment and flexible working to parenting rights and reverse discrimination. The book locates women's role in the family as a key contributory factor to their continued disadvantage within the paid workforce. Yet, in signalling the way forward, the author rejects the notion that the aim is simply to slot more women into existing structures. Instead of expecting women to conform to structures which exclude and devalue caring responsibilities, she argues, real change will only occur if paid work is restructured so that both men and women can be active participants in family life as well as in the paid workforce. The book does not, however, offer single dimensional solutions. In particular, the very difficult conflicts of interest which can arise between women, on grounds such as class or race, are directly confronted.

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