By: Aya Baradie
On March 11th, a group of 175 people gathered in Montreal to discuss how to unify and implement the ideas behind the ‘Law Needs Feminism‘ movement. Aya Baradie spoke to campaign participants about what the movement means to them.
In 2016 the Feminist Collective of McGill Law launched its first LNFB photo campaign. Quickly trending on Twitter, the hashtag gained traction across the country.
The campaign began as a student-driven initiative, allowing participants to explain why law benefits from the feminist perspective. An unexpected success, the 2017 project exceeded the number of participants from the previous year’s campaign in April.
In 2014, the Feminist Collective of McGill Law began a photo campaign using the hashtag “I am a feminist because…” catching the attention of the Canadian public and being featured in the Huffington Post. Seeking to build on the success of the first photo campaign of two years prior, the Feminist Collective of McGill Law decided to go through with another campaign. This time with the hashtag ‘Law Needs Feminism Because.’
Third-year law student at McGill and campaign leader Rachel Kohut attributes much of this success to timing.
“The photos from the first campaign were released around the same time the Ghomeshi trial was taking place and people saw themselves in it in many ways,” says Kohut.
The Ghomeshi trial of 2016 involved Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi who was charged and eventually acquitted of four counts of sexual assault in 2014.
“It was a moment where people really needed to start having that conversation, ” Kohut says. “This provided that kind of platform.”
The campaign had further impact with participants handwriting their own messages.
“When you see something in someone’s handwriting, it resonates with you that much more,” she says.
#Lawneedsfeminismbecause has made its way into the law departments of universities across Canada, including the University of Toronto and New Brunswick.
— Allard School of Law (@AllardLaw) March 8, 2017
Desiree Duplessis, second-year law student at University of New Brunswick and the faculty leader for LNFB, was surprised by the strong turnout for their own campaign-despite the university’s small faculty of law.
“The law has always been this kind of old boys’ club so I was especially passionate about this photo campaign,” she says.
Duplessis did point out, however, that law is not the only field affected by a lack of female representation.
“It’s just nice to bring attention to those female lawyers, judges or law students in a field that is typically seen as male-dominant,” she says.
While the campaign has helped start a conversation about how to eliminate the lack of female representation in law, this was not its initial goal. The campaign tried to stay away from focusing on just one issue affecting women in law, says Kohut, but instead touched on a multiplicity of issues by allowing others to bring their own interpretation of what feminism is.
“As an organizer, it’s really important that we don’t tell people what feminism or law means to them; but we should let people decide what those things mean on their own terms; that’s how they find their voice,” says Kohut.
Recurring themes in people’s tweets revolved around gender representation, lack of opportunity and the difficult hiring process that women often face. Duplessis also noted much of the photos contents discussed the infamous Brock Turner case of 2016, criticizing his short 3-month jail sentence after being convicted of sexual assault. Comparing this to the 6-month sentence received by the artist who defamed the Hollywood sign in early January of this year, many people were furious.
“Crimes against women and violent crimes seem to get less punishment than sillier offences like the defamation of the Hollywood sign and that’s a problem,” says Duplessis.
— Zaynab Al-waadh (@zaynabatzenith) March 10, 2017
“There’s a lot of feminists and law students, but so far, there’s been no unity as a feminist law student voice. We want to create a bigger umbrella for these people to unite under,” says Kohut.
The conversation has continued to grow, reaching institutions like Seneca College in order to address not only law students, but those who will become law clerks, paralegals and legal assistants.
The event in March will cover the possibility of creating an annual forum and turning LNFB into an organization.
(Updated: Wednesday March 15 at 1:50 p.m.)