2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which made it possible for women to qualify as barristers or solicitors for the first time. The 1919 Act was a pioneering piece of legislation, coming as it did less than a year after women of a certain age and property qualification were allowed to vote, and years before women were permitted to stand for parliament. This act enabled women to fulfil their potential and demonstrated to society as a whole that women could flourish in those areas of life previously dominated by men. If women could succeed in law, they could succeed anywhere.
On Christmas Eve 1919, Helena Normanton became the first woman to be admitted to an Inn of Court. We now have 6,000 female barristers and the President of the Supreme Court - Baroness Hale - is, inspiringly, a woman.
Following in my own grandmother's footsteps and practicing as a barrister is something that fills me with tremendous pride and fortunately we have come a long way in regard to gender equality since her day and the direction of travel is promising. Between 2016 and 2017, the proportion of female QCs increased from 13.7 per cent to 14.8 per cent, and I am also hugely encouraged by the fact that there is currently a greater proportion of female pupils in comparison to male.
We still need to support and encourage women not only to start at the Bar but to stay there and apply for silk. The proportion of female QCs is still too low at 14.8%. And isn't it shocking that the special shoes that must be worn by new QCs for the formal 'silks' ceremony start at size six, when the average shoe size for a woman is a size five!
The First 100 Years project focuses on those women who have pioneered in the field of law since 1919. Incidences of birth such as sex, religion or race should never impact anyone's role in the workplace and this project is so important in celebrating, informing and inspiring the future generations of women in our profession.
I welcome any opportunity to recognise and applaud the work that women do, not least in the field of law, but I also look forward to a future, when women are lauded for what they have done as individuals not for their achievements as women.
I am confident that the strides we have made, and are continuing to make in so many areas in society, will mean that milestones and headlines that are noteworthy today will soon become the norm, and the future will be one of far greater equality and fairness for women in law and everywhere.
Lucy Frazer QC MP