Introduction - Calling for Change: Women, Law and the Legal Profession

Elizabeth Sheehy and Sheila McIntyre, eds, Calling for Change: Women, Law and the Legal Profession. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2006, pp. 1-21

Posted: 5 Jun 2013

See all articles by Elizabeth A. Sheehy

Elizabeth A. Sheehy

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: 2006


In 1993, the Canadian Bar Association [CBA] Task Force on Gender Equality in the Legal Profession, headed by the Honourable Bertha Wilson, produced the first national examination of the situation of women lawyers in Canada. Touchstones for Change: Equality, Diversity and Accountability generated accolades and denunciations from within and outside the profession. It also generated momentum for change. In March 2004, to mark the ten-year anniversary of Touchstones and in recognition of International Women's Day, the Shirley Greenberg Professorship in Women and the Legal Profession and the Human Rights Research and Education Centre co-sponsored a one day conference at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

The conference "Re-Imagining Touchstones: The Wilson Report Ten Years on and Counting; Re-Visiting the Issues and Re-Thinking the Questions/ Repenser Les Assises de la reform: retour sur les questions soulevees une decennie et plus apres la rapport Wilson," was designed to reassess not only the status of women within the profession but also the experience of women who engage, by choice or by compulsion, with the legal system . Twenty-nine women, among them community activists, academics, practitioners, law students, women litigants, and law society benchers and staff ordered their perspectives on the context in which egalitarian change is occurring and impeded, and on the very mixed results of women's efforts to secure such change from inside and outside the legal system. Twenty-four of those conference participants are represented in this collection. Some 150 people, primarily women from an equally diverse range of constituencies, attended the conference.

This book attempts to capture the range of voices and perspectives on women's engagements with law, in pursuit of equality, of those who gathered one day in Ottawa in March 2004. Running through the collection is an understanding of legal practice as more than a job; it is also a crucial location and a vehicle of the struggle for social justice. Equality proponents and activists within the profession approach practice as a calling, and embrace an understanding of lawyering as a public service, an enabling profession. Feminist activists working outside of the profession call upon women lawyers for feminist practices, accountability and power-sharing to empower individual women and frontline women's groups in our common project of securing substantive equality for all women. Hence this book's title, Calling for Change: Women, Law and the Legal Profession.

Some of this book's chapters offer the immediacy of the author's original delivery; other chapters are conventional scholarly works that were presented in highly abbreviated form at the conference. Some have the familiar streamlined character of an executive summary or legal memo; others risk painful and critical reflections on the experience of the conference as an instance of growing inequalities among women in relation to law and in society. We have made no attempt to render the texts uniform, preferring to allow the diversity of these texts to underline the diversity of women engaging law and the range of their experiences when doing so.

We cannot claim, however, that either the conference or this text is fully representative of the diversity of women engaging the legal system. Ultimately, conference organizers bear responsibility for the voices and issues that were not heard at the event or expressed in this collection. Our efforts to focus the conference beyond the equality struggles and successes of privileged professional women and our active recruiting of non-lawyers, of racialized, Aboriginal, lesbian, disabled, and working-class women revealed that legal activists in and outside the profession and members of under-represented groups within the profession, many of whom are young mothers, remain thin on the ground ten years after Touchstones. They are also overextended precisely because the achievement of diversity in initiatives like this conference increases the already unacceptable emotional, social, familial, and professional burdens on such individuals. We are grateful to those who chose to fit contributing to this conference and this book into their crowded schedules.

Keywords: legal profession, status of women, women and legal profession, Touchstones, women's engagement with law, law and struggle for social justice

Suggested Citation

Sheehy, Elizabeth A., Introduction - Calling for Change: Women, Law and the Legal Profession (2006). Elizabeth Sheehy and Sheila McIntyre, eds, Calling for Change: Women, Law and the Legal Profession. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2006, pp. 1-21. Available at SSRN:

Elizabeth A. Sheehy (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

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