Fighting For Women’s Rights Through Law

Third year JD students Annika McInerney and Gabrielle Verhagen have been united together in their dual Melbourne University Law Students’ Society (MULSS) roles by a common interest: the fight for women’s rights through law. As the LSS Women’s Officers they are working together to improve opportunities for women at MLS, and they both hope to go on and help women through their careers in law.

Women's Officers

Inspired to take on role of Women’s Officers because it was one they both felt truly passionate about, Annika and Gabrielle recognised what an important resource the MULSS is for students at MLS and how they could use it to provide support for women studying.

Despite their common goal and role, both students came to have this passion through very different life experiences. In fact, the motivations informing their involvement in women’s rights are quite contrasting from one another, yet led them each to the same conclusion.

From a young age, Gabrielle was attuned to how women face particular struggles, which men do not.

“I was from a lower socio-economic area and a very traditional background. Growing up, I saw the different opportunities that different genders got,” Gabrielle says.

This led Gabrielle to explore the subject of Sexual Politics during her undergraduate studies. The reading list put her on to an article by an MLS Professor.

“I read an article by Professor Peter Rush who discussed how the law can be defined in a male way, and how we have to fight to change that,” Gabrielle says.

The article strongly resonated with Gabrielle and directly informed her desire to commence JD studies, where numerous people at the forefront of feminist legal politics have since taught her.

Annika had a different experience. She grew up in a household where her mother was the main breadwinner.

"My mum is a massive inspiration to me and such a strong woman, I don’t think I could have turned out any other way,” she says.

Nevertheless what really cemented Annika’s views on women’s rights was the realisation that the majority of women in her life had faced some form of sexual harassment and abuse, from ‘minor’ catcalling through to offences as serious as rape.

“I started to ask myself, how many more generations of women need to have these experiences before our society decides that things need to change?”

Since learning about feminist legal theory, both Gabrielle and Annika have had the opportunity to put their anecdotal and theoretical knowledge into practice as MULSS Women’s Officers.

So far, they have together set up a MULSS Women’s Facebook page to foster community; run an International Women’s Day panel event; organised practical based workshops; and they are currently working on setting up a volunteer outreach program through which students can be linked with volunteer positions in various women’s organisations.

“We’ve recently linked up four students for a research project at Women and Mentoring and we hope to expand this sort of partnership with more organisations who do amazing work.”

After law school, Gabrielle wants to continue fighting for women’s rights through criminal law. She is currently a paralegal at Slater+Gordon and aspires to one day become a criminal law barrister.

Annika isn’t so sure yet, but knows that she loves seeing the practical, tangible effects of the law on peoples’ lives. Either way, she’s certain about one thing.

"Advocating publicly on women’s rights can be hard but it is rewarding. Every little step contributes to the bigger picture.”

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