Blog by Helen Curtis of Garden Court Chambers.
On 2 March 1955, 15 year old Claudette Colvin felt ‘history had [her] glued to the seat’. As a result, she refused to move when the bus driver asked her to give up her seat for a fellow passenger, who was white. What gave this young woman the courage to stay put? The answer is, the strength of other women. Claudette Colvin says, ‘it felt as if Harriet Tubman’s hand was pushing me down on the one shoulder and Sojourner Truth’s hand was pushing me down on the other’. Those who choose to challenge an immediate injustice do it instinctively and at times without thought for personal consequences. Claudette Colvin was arrested and subsequently jailed, tried and initially convicted for a number of offences, including violating segregation laws. All this was 9 months before Rosa Parks became a familiar name.
More than 65 years have passed since Claudette Colvin chose to challenge the unjust rules of that time and although legislative progress has made inequality unlawful, equality remains an aspiration and challenges still need to be made. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, one of the very many inequalities in our society is that rates of prosecution and sentencing for Black people in October 2020 were three times higher than for White people; Black African women were seven times more likely to be detained than White British women in mental health hospitals. Racism must be challenged; racism + sexism equally so.
Girls and women need support from all of us to challenge individual and systemic injustices and confidence to make their own personal choices. The forthcoming series of webinars at Garden Court Chambers seeks to highlight issues where girls and women are placed at a disadvantage. Socio-economic factors continue to play a part in whether girls and women reach their potential. There is a reason the first International Equal Pay Day was so named by the UN on 18 September 2020: women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, creating a lifetime of income inequality between men and women.
Achieving an equal future, particularly given the impact of the pandemic will become increasingly a matter of wealth, health, opportunity and specific collective intention. The stark reality for areas of social deprivation means that so many of our children who have missed almost a year of school, and in that time had no access to a device for their lessons, will struggle to make up for lost time. Material poverty often translates into poverty of opportunity which gets more complex when women live in circumstances of domestic abuse. Challenges, including legal challenges, to social and economic consequences for some women and girls, need to be strategically chosen. Where women and girls, for whatever reason, are inhibited from voicing a choice, other women and men need to be heard giving strength to those voices pushing towards equality.
Please join us to garner support and lend your voice so that we all, together, choose to challenge inequality.
Find out more about our International Women’s Day events taking place at 5pm, on 9, 10 and 11 March. Recordings will be made available.