Public law barrister, human rights specialist and women’s rights trailblazer Gráinne Mellon describes her work, her inspirations and how we can overcome the barriers that remain.
Describe the work that you do to further gender equality and defend women’s rights
Women’s rights come into so much of my practice – from representing women refugees and victims of trafficking who have been subject to violence and abuse, to issues of equality and discrimination in public services and in employment to issues of reproductive health and autonomy. In the last few years, I have represented the only female physics technician in an equal pay claim against one of the country’s leading public schools. I also represented a woman who wanted to give her baby up for adoption at birth and instead of being supported was met with not one but two High Court cases challenging her right to do so. In the international context, I am working on issues surrounding the sexual enslavement and trafficking of minority Yazidi women and girls in Iraq, including seeking accountability for perpetrators in international criminal law. I believe that the systemic use of women and girls in warfare and conflict is one of the horrors of our time. It is clear to me that women and girls continue to face significant risks and challenges in both domestic and international law and that a great deal of work still needs to be done.
What inspires you to undertake this work?
My commitment to equality and to human rights inspires me to undertake this work and I also believe that progress can be made - particularly when you look how far we have come in a relatively short period of time. I would like the next generation of women to know that we did our bit.
How can we overcome barriers to achieving gender equality?
We need to see and hear more women everywhere, at every opportunity, and we need to work together to support and promote each other more. I was impressed by a technique adopted by Obama staffers, which they referred to as an “amplification strategy” – when a woman made a key point in a meeting, other women would repeat it and give credit to the woman who made the point. This compelled the men in the room to recognise her contribution and I think this is just one of the simple ways we can ensure more women’s voices are heard.
Personally, I always try to bring other women on board in projects and when I'm speaking at or organising events. In my role as lecturer at the LSE, I try to support female students as much as I can. I think role-modelling and support systems are key - it’s great when you feel you are part of a tribe of women who understand the challenges and are determined to promote change.
At Garden Court Chambers, we are celebrating International Women’s Day with a series of events featuring lawyers, activists and academics who are all striving for gender equality. Gráinne will be speaking at tonight’s event, Tackling the cycle of violence against women: Challenges and solutions.