Statement for the Women in Law Conference,
“Why do I support Women in Law and why is it so important that women in legal professions are being empowered?”
Juliane Kokott Advocate General at the European Court of Justice
I support Women in Law because it aims not only at promoting women in legal professions and at supporting them career-wise but also at providing a platform for academic exchange about gender related and discrimination issues. This is crucial because the developments in the legal framework governing gender equality are naturally an important factor in achieving this aim.
This area of law is in constant evolution at legislative level and but also in the case-law of the European Court of Justice. Questions of gender equality and discrimination have first and foremost been raised in the context of employment and occupation. Hence, the principle of equal pay as enshrined in the first paragraph of Article 157 TFEU has evolved, thanks to the case-law of the Court, into a key principle of European social law. Today, Article 157 TFUE does not only prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sex, it also constitutes the legal basis for legislative measures promoting every aspect of equal treatment in employment and occupation, as well as for positive action.
Moreover, through the efforts of the Women in Law organization, women in law even become the very subject of academic work, as demonstrated by the latest addition of a class on this topic to the curriculum of the University of Vienna.
As far as the promotion of women in legal professions is concerned, a recent study shows that while women make up slightly more than half of law school graduates in the EU and also 43 % of lawyers and roughly 50 % of judges, the representation of women in higher positions is not nearly as balanced. Only one third of the judges at Supreme Court level in the EU are women. At the European Court of Justice, for instance, only seven of the 39 members are women. And when it comes to partnerships in private law firms, the numbers are even more disappointing. This makes it clear why empowerment of women in legal professions is so important. This includes the elimination of barriers but also encouraging women to actively aim for higher positions. In this context, it is good to see that women have recently taken up two top positions in the European Union, the presidency of the European Commission and of the European Central Bank. They can change our perception and serve as role models for students and young professionals.