Feminist Engagements with the Law in Contemporary Europe: Perspectives from Activism, Legal Professions and Academia

25 mai - 26 mai

Coordinators: Elena Caruso (The School of Law, University of Kent, UK), Elena Ghidoni (Human Rights Institute, Deusto University, Spain), Stefanie Pletz (Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Huddersfield, UK)

Description of the meeting

Evento cofinanciado por Agenda2030-Igualdad de la Universidad de Deusto
Event co-funded by Agenda 2030-Igualdad of the University of Deusto

Over the past decades, reflections on feminism and the law have attracted increasing interest by European scholars, though usually through a compartmentalised perspective.

The growth of a global feminist movement has opened up debates on the current development of activism in neo-liberal societies. But what relationship with the law and law reform does this global movement enact? Shifting to academia, accounts of feminism and the law tend to be limited to national debates only (e.g. Pitch, 1998; Mestre I Mestre and Barrère Unzueta, 2008; Lembke and Foljanty et al., 2012; Hennette-Vauchez et al, 2013, 2014).

When comparative analyses are articulated, these are primarily focused on effecting legislative change in particular areas (e.g. reproductive rights, violence against women etc.) (e.g. Smart, 1989; Cook, Erdman, Dickens, 2014; Kouvo and Pearson, 2014). On the other hand, scholars have focused on women’s representation in legal professions across the world, shedding light on how gender can influence the management and administration of justice (e.g. Schultz and Shaw, 2003, 2013, 2014, 2019).

Yet, there is still a need to understand how these different actors committed to a feminist agenda engage (or not) with the law: how do they understand feminism in their day-to-day practice; what strategies do they enact to produce transformations in their field; and, if and how they engage with each other. Activists, practitioners and scholars are important agents committed to feminist agenda(s). Crucially, a comparative European dimension is lacking.

In an effort to analyse and answer these pressing questions, our two-day workshop will offer three main contributions. First, it provides two comparative lenses for a deeper analysis on this matter: on the one hand, it considers the different perspectives offered by activists, academics and legal practitioners; on the other, it considers how these different engagements take place across a wide range of European countries. As such, this comparative forum is the workshop’s primary original contribution. Second, by exploring feminist engagements with the law with delegates from a wide range of actors (e.g. activism, legal professions and academia) this workshop offers a ground-breaking occasion to reflect on how the concept of the ‘civil law legal tradition’ does (or does not) influence their feminist approaches to law. Third, it originally proposes a comparison between ‘common law’ and ‘civil law’ legal traditions in exploring feminist engagements with the law.

The workshop will be articulated in three sessions.

First Session: Current challenges facing feminism in law: a comparative overview
This session will explore how feminism ‘meets’ and intersects with the law in European countries today, by considering how different actors understand this critical relationship and its struggles in order to advance the feminist agenda. The discussion will be held through preeminent feminist activists who have campaigned in the feminist movement from the 1960s up to today; judges and lawyers who face the challenges of implementing a feminist perspective in their application of the law in courts; legal academics who engage with feminism in their theoretical study of the law in European law schools. This general session captures issues and challenges that crosscut topics and therefore provide a broad overview of those from a comparative perspective. Some of the overarching questions that guide the discussion will be: What instruments does the law provide for feminism to use (what spaces and opportunities)? What are the limits of the law, and therefore, of feminist engagements with the law?

Second Session: Abortion and Violence Against Women
2.1.    Focus Session on Abortion
Abortion is one of those health services whose laws and policies have been often borrowed from feminist activism and whose laws and policies have often influenced feminist commitments in this field. This Session explores in-depth some feminist approaches to the law in the context of abortion. Panellists will reflect on how feminism shapes (or does not) their activism, legal work in academia and profession when they engage (or do not) with abortion laws. Conversely, they will also reflect on how abortion laws do shape (or do not) their activism, legal work and academic job in this field. The choice of abortion is particularly timely in our reflections, especially after the pandemic breakout, as there is a vivid debate on abortion legal reform in several European countries both with strict anti-abortion laws (e.g. Poland and Malta) and with more ‘liberal’ abortion laws (e.g. France, Germany, Italy).
2.2        Focus Session on Violence Against Women and Gender-based Violence
Recently defined as the ‘shadow pandemic’ by UN Women, violence against women remains one of the most persistent and extreme violations of women’s human rights. Feminist activism has played a crucial role in the fight against violence by advocating for legal changes and providing support services. How do these actors use (or refuse to use) the legal tools provided and for what reasons? How do feminist lawyers and magistrates resist and debunk stereotyped narratives on women’s sexuality? Is there a dialogue between the knowledge produced in academia and the one developed on the ground to address violence and to generate social and legal change?

Third Session: Civil law vs common law tradition: opportunities and barriers for feminist engagements
The third session will be dedicated to considering the dominant European legal tradition: ‘civil law’ and how it influences feminist engagements with the law in those jurisdictions. It will explore the differences and similarities in institutional, methodological, structural and stylistic aspects of the civil law legal tradition in different European jurisdictions, from the perspectives of different feminist actors. Comparison will also be drawn with those approaches in European common law jurisdictions. Particular emphasis will be placed on discussing whether any differences between the civil and common law traditions impact feminist engagements in academia, legal professions and activism. Significantly, panellists will reflect on these observations and their resulting practical and theoretical implications, with a view to developing new ideas, and opportunities for furthering feminist engagement with the law and minimising challenges and barriers to such engagement.

Our experience in Oñati

Expanding the scope of current legal feminism debates, our workshop “Feminist Engagements with the Law in Contemporary Europe: Perspectives from Activism, Legal Professions and Academia” was held at the Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law in May 2023. It observed how feminist scholars, practitioners and activists from different legal traditions and European jurisdictions engage with and influence the law. The workshop was conceptualised and convened by Elena Ghidoni, Elena Caruso and Stefanie Pletz.
The workshop’s aims were to understand how these different actors, committed to a feminist agenda, engage (or not) with the law: and how they understand feminism in their day-to-day practice; what strategies do they enact to produce transformations in their field; and, if and how they engage with each other. We believe that activists, practitioners, and scholars are important agents committed to feminist agenda(s), and, crucially, we found that a comparative and collaborative European dimension was lacking.
Resulting from that we gathered legal professionals, legal academics, and activists from nine different European countries and created a much-needed space for reflection and discussion. Further we explored similarities, differences, and future synergies for European feminist engagements with the law, whilst crucially, setting out new research agendas.
We have been very fortunate to have been joined by such a diverse group of European legal scholars, practitioners, and activists in Oñati, which created a very special, productive, and uniquely exchange-based experience that spanned across our entire stay at the Institute. Throughout this time, we have been supported wonderfully by the dedicated team at the IISL who were an absolute joy to engage and work with. Therefore, we would like to thank everyone at the Institute for their fantastic support and assistance in realising this workshop and we are especially grateful to Sabine Frerichs and Malen Gordoa.


Para más información: 

Workshop Coordination Team

Avenida de la Universidad, 8
Apartado 28
20560 Oñati (Gipuzkoa) - Spain
T: +34 943 78... Ver teléfono
E: workshop@iisj.es