How Effective Are the Legal and Non-Legal Responses in Addressing the Changing Needs of Women?

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How effective are the legal and non-legal responses in addressing the changing needs of women?

The road to equality for women in Australian society is long but not without merit. However have females after two hundred and eleven years reached their destination? This is debatable but it is clear that there have been changes, both legal and non-legal. The answer lies in the exploration of the effectiveness of the mechanisms in place to determine where women have been, where they are now and where they are going in the future.

Life at the beginning…..

The journey commences on the 26 of January in 1788 when 191 female convicts arrive on the first fleet at Sydney Cove. The attitude was that to be female you were immediately subservient to your male counterpart, be it a husband or father. Unmarried women were looked down upon by society and subsequently they sought to be betrothed as many times their future welfare was at stake. Single women relied on the support of relatives and were seen as recipients of charity rather than fulfilling any useful purpose. Generally Women were acclaimed to be less intelligent and hence destined to a life of domesticity and child rearing. Ironically lower class women had more rights as they could acquire a job but it was generally out of necessity and they were low paying and menial. Employment included; professions assigned to women such as teaching, nursing or piecework.

Society claimed and legally stated that women were not individuals and hence did not have the opportunity to vote and had no voice in the political direction of their country. Women had no economic rights and were "unito caro" or one entity with there husband. They did not even have the right for sexual consortium but were expected to meet the needs of their husband. Living in a male dominated society it was very difficult for women to express their opinions especially if they contradicted their husband beliefs. Consequently their education was restricted to subjects that prepared them to a life of domestic service and the majority experienced discrimination if they sought for a higher education. This is evident in the case Jex- Blake v Senatus of the University of Edinburgh (1893) where Jex-Blake a female student wished to study medicine but certain lecturers refused to teach female students and so she could not practise medicine. When she demanded equality, she was unsuccessful. The university declared that its charter referred to "students or persons" and over time this meant exclusively male students. It seemed to claim that women were not "persons".

The property woman took into a marriage, or acquired, was legally absorbed by their husbands. Furthermore, married women could not make wills or dispose of any property without their husbands' consent. Marital separation, whether initiated by the husband or wife, usually left the women economically destitute, as the law offered them no rights to marital property. Widows often found themselves in a similar situation as they could not keep their spouse's property unless it was declared in a will but a husband was not legally obligated to provide support for his wife.

Loosening society's chokehold

"Her only method to produce release, redress, or change, is to ceaselessly agitate" as quoted by Louisa Lawson dawned the beginning of the change of society's perspective and characterised how the responsiveness of the legal system generally reflected the attitudes of the public; otherwise if individuals did not value the law they were less likely to abide by it. Over time social changes occurred because of catalysts such as the historic events of World war one, two, Vietnam and the feminist rallies of the sixties. It was these social changes that led to women receiving legal rights enjoyed by men for so long through legislation, precedent and non-legal mechanisms. These changes occurred in many areas but some of the most pronounced are: Political suffrage, Economic...
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