Friday 29th April 2022 from 9am

Wills & Estates Senior Associate Debbie Sage will join Robyn Hyland to talk about the importance of planning for end-of-life care and what options are available.

Then and now: celebrating women in law and the evolution of women’s rights in Australia this International Women’s Day


In celebration of International Women’s Day, Attwood Marshall Lawyers Wills and Estates Associate Larisa Kapur joined Robyn Hyland on 4CRB for ‘Law Talks’ to talk about women in law, legal advancements, and ongoing challenges related to women’s rights in Australia.

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is marked each year on the 8th March, and is an initiative by the United Nations to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.

It’s a day that allows us to:

  1. Celebrate women’s achievements
  2. Educate and raise awareness for women’s equality
  3. Call for positive change advancing women
  4. Lobby for accelerated gender parity

Women in law: celebrating historical trailblazers

As we acknowledge International Women’s Day, we must reflect on the remarkable women who have left an indelible mark on the legal landscape, shaping the course of history and paving the way for gender equality.

Among these trailblazers stands a notable pioneer, Grata Flos Matilda Greig, the first female lawyer admitted to practice in Australia.

Grata was the first woman to enter any law school in Australia. However, after completing her degree, the rules of practice in force at the time did not comprehend female lawyers, and there was no precedent for women becoming lawyers in any state. Grata had to campaign in Victoria to change the rules to allow women to practice law.

In 1903, the Victorian Parliament passed the Women’s Disabilities Removal Act to allow women to practice.

Grata completed her articles of clerkship and in 1905 became the first woman admitted to legal practice in Australia.

Grata’s story is just one chapter in the rich tapestry of women’s contributions to the legal profession. Across the Pacific in the United States, another formidable figure can’t be ignored: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ruth’s impact on women’s rights transcended borders and generations.

Her early career was highlighted in the movie “On the Basis of Sex”, which showcased her dedication to breaking gender norms.

Ruth attended Harvard Law School and not only took classes for her education but also attended on behalf of her husband, who was battling cancer. She ended up graduating first in her class, however, she struggled to find a job after graduation, so she taught at a Law school before partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union on two gender equality cases.

One of those cases (Reed v Reed) became the first gender-based statute struck down on the basis of equal protection in 1971.

Ruth became the founding counsel of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and continued to practice and teach until 1980 when she was appointed to the federal bench. She was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993, where she continued to advocate for equal rights.

She passed away in September 2020, and her death received immediate and significant public attention in honour of her work in law and advocacy for women’s rights.

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, let us honour the legacies of Grata Flos Matilda Greig and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose courage and dedication have propelled us closer to a more just and equitable society.

Gender equity in the legal sector: progress and persisting disparities

The legal industry has changed significantly over time. The sector is younger, more female, and more diverse than ever.

Women now make up 55 per cent of all solicitors in Australia. In 2022, it was reported that all states and territories in Australia continued to have a greater proportion of female solicitors than male solicitors, and this majority has been held since 2020.

Despite women solicitors outnumbering their male counterparts, it has been reported that the gender pay gap still exists in law, just like in other industries.

This was reflected in insights released by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) – the Commonwealth Public Sector Gender Equality Snapshot, which showed women are paid, on average, 88c on the dollar compared to men. This compares to 77c on the dollar in the private sector.

According to, Australian women are paid 17.5% less than men doing the same work.

Legislation: closing the gender pay gap in Australia

Addressing the gender pay gap in Australia has been a longstanding concern, with legislative efforts evolving to combat this issue and protect women’s rights. Let’s explore some vital legislative milestones that have contributed to narrowing the gap:

  1. Equal Pay for Equal Work (1969): In 1969, a significant step was taken when the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission first enshrined the “Equal Pay for Equal Work” principle. This decision aimed to combat gender-based wage discrimination, ensuring that men and women receive equal compensation for performing the same, or substantially similar, work.
  2. Sex Discrimination Act (1984): The introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 marked another crucial milestone. This legislation made it unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their sex, marital status, or pregnancy, laying the foundation for greater gender equality in the workplace.
  3. Workplace Gender Equality Act (2012): In 2012, the Workplace Gender Equality Act was introduced, requiring specific organisations to report on gender equality indicators, including gender pay gaps. This legislation aimed to increase transparency and accountability regarding gender disparities in the workplace.
  4. Pay Equity Inquiry (2018): A significant development in 2018 was the Pay Equity Inquiry, which focused on understanding the factors contributing to the gender pay gap and exploring strategies to address it. This inquiry underscored the ongoing commitment to closing the gap and promoting fair pay practices.

These legislative measures represent just a snapshot of the initiatives aimed at upholding women’s rights and addressing gender inequality in Australia. However, despite significant progress, challenges persist, highlighting the need for continued efforts to promote gender equity in all facets of society.

While strides have been made in addressing the gender pay gap, much work remains to be done. By championing policies, raising awareness, and reshaping workplace norms, we can strive towards a more equitable future for all.

Women’s voting rights in Australia and women in politics

In 1902, Australia achieved a significant milestone by granting women the right to vote in Federal elections, becoming the second nation in the world to do so.

However, it is essential to recognise that as early as 1901, some states of Australia, such as South Australia and Western Australia, did allow women to vote.

Pressure from suffragists and politicians led to the enactment of the Commonwealth Franchise Act, extending voting rights to Australian women over 21 in Federal elections.

It’s worth noting that despite this progress, First Nations women and men were not granted the right to vote in these elections until 1962.

The 1902 Act also granted women the right to be elected to the Australian Parliament.

However, it took another 41 years for the first woman (or women) to be elected to the Australian Parliament, which happened in 1943.

Among them was Dame Enid Lyons, elected to the House of Representatives, representing the United Australian Party. She also became the first female minister in an Australian government.

Another trailblazer was Dame Dorothy Tangney, elected to the Senate and represented the Australian Labor Party.

Dame Dorothy Tangney was the first woman elected from Western Australia to the Federal Parliament and held the record for the longest-serving woman in Parliament until 2001. She advocated for social reform and women’s rights throughout her career.

Women in the workforce

Women make up close to half of the Australian workforce today. But how has the balancing act for women changed over the years, as more women enter the workforce while still managing family life?

Not long ago, women faced significant restrictions on working after marriage, often limited to temporary roles that hindered promotion and income growth.

Moreover, the marriage bar imposed limitations on their ability to accumulate superannuation.

The official abolition of the marriage bar in 1966 marked a turning point, opening the doors for more women to enter and remain in the Australian Public Service workforce.

Despite progress and more women taking on what were once male-dominated fields like construction, law, technology and finance, many women still find themselves in roles similar to those of 35 years ago, with caring and clerical professions remaining predominantly female-dominated.

Women also remain underrepresented in leadership roles.

Shockingly, women’s earnings decrease by 55 per cent in the first five years of parenthood, while men’s earnings remain largely unaffected.

Despite women increasingly becoming primary breadwinners in the family, they still shoulder a disproportionate share of unpaid housework compared to men.  

The concept of the “mental load” further underscores this inequality, with women shouldering the responsibility of managing household and family affairs in 78 per cent of families, as highlighted in the Status of Women Report Card 2023.

In the same report, it was identified that 30 per cent of Australian men believe gender inequality doesn’t exist!

We must acknowledge and celebrate the incredible strength of women navigating careers, families, and the “mental load”, showcasing their resilience. However, this recognition doesn’t negate the need for ongoing discussions and increased awareness to foster progressive households, bridging the gap between men and women in all facets of life.

Family law and the historical impact of divorce on women

The introduction of the Family Law Act in 1975 marked a significant shift, as it embraced a “no-fault” principle.

Before the Family Law Act was enacted, the process of obtaining a divorce was far more challenging, especially for women. Before the introduction of this legislation, divorce laws were governed by the states, and they often required establishing fault or blame on one party. This meant that couples seeking a divorce had to provide evidence of wrongdoing, such as adultery, habitual drunkenness, or cruelty.

The legal process for divorce was complex, lengthy, and costly. Women, in particular, faced additional challenges, as they often bore the burden of proving fault. This made it difficult for women to initiate divorce proceedings or to dissolve a marriage on grounds that were both legally acceptable and socially stigmatised.

With the introduction of the Family Law Act, the process of divorce became much more streamlined and simplified for everyone involved.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – proudly serving the community for over 75 years

As a business that has women represent 80 per cent of its workforce, and 50 percent at partnership and leadership level, we believe in instilling the values and message of International Women’s Day not just today but in the day-to-day operations of our business.

It is our intent to help people and change their lives for the better. We do this with integrity, understanding, and responsibility.

Our women and men celebrate diversity, inclusivity, and equity and are proud to serve the community and deliver the best possible legal services available.

For all your legal needs, contact our team any time on 1800 621 071.

Happy International Women’s Day.

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Larisa Kapur

Senior Associate
Wills & Estates

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The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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