Women and the Law

Women and the Law

Women and the Law

Women and the Law


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.


This is sixth title in the series of Oxford Monographs on Labour Law, established to promote the publication of books which will make a distinctive contribution to the study of labour law. The contemporary publication of the fifth and sixth titles will, we hope, represent a recognition and affirmation of the central importance of discussion of the treatment of women to the study of labour law at the present day.

Having always maintained an open-ended and multi-disciplinary approach to this series, we are particularly pleased to be able to publish in the series a text which both in title and in substance extends widely beyond the traditional confines of labour law.

For the real point which is made by this text, and by its inclusion in our series, is that we can fully and adequately understand the treatment of women in employment law only from the perspective of an analysis of the situation of women in the legal system at large.

It is that analysis which Sandra Fredman carries out very powerfully in this text, not least because she establishes an effective theoretical basis for it in her first, foundational, chapter. It quickly becomes apparent how helpful that exercise is towards the general task of identifying the modern theoretical basis for labour law as a whole, this being the very enterprise to which our series seeks to contribute.


10 July 1997 . . .

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