As many of you will know today is International Women’s Day – a day which traditionally celebrates the struggle for women’s rights, dating back to about 1900s.
The theme this year is #BeBoldForChange, “to help forge a better working world – a more inclusive, gender equal world”
Women’s legal rights in the England has been a hard fought for and excruciatingly slow progress.
Before 1870 married women were not allowed to keep any money they earned, but rather it would be treated as their husbands. This changed with the Married Women’s Property Act 1870. Later, the Married Women’s Property Act in 1882 finally allowed married women to own and control property in their own right.
Women were not guaranteed the right to the equal footing in the work place until 1970 with the Equal Pay Act 1970.
Divorce was made more easily accessible to many women under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973; for example prior to this only men could divorce solely on the grounds of adultery.
But how far has the law actually come in empowering women to be on equal footing to their male counterparts.
In February 2017 we had the case of Mrs Tini Owens in the Court of Appeal. Mrs Owens was refused the right to divorce her husband despite being ‘desperately unhappy’ in their marriage. Mrs Owens was unable to persuade judges that her marriage had ‘broken down irretrievably’. I wonder if the case would have turned out differently if Mr Owens was the petitioner.
Women are still discriminated on the basis of their marital status. It is well known that cohabitees enjoy less favourable treatment than those who are married. Although some way was made in February 2017 to equalize the playing field when judges ruled that an unmarried woman could inherit pension rights of her deceased partner (in the same way that married women can).
The law is clearly lagging way behind social trends for women and the struggle is as real today as it was 200 years ago; but women will continue to do what they do best and live to fight another day.