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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Rebelling Against Gender Bias Every Day, Barrister Helena Kennedy Advises Women To Do The Same

  • IWB Post
  •  January 30, 2018

‘Women’s empowerment’ is a mere phrase, to tell you the truth. Because when it comes to its honest execution, the very people giving heated speeches on the importance of women ascending the scales of success are the ones irked by even a single woman not being okay with gender discrimination. Helena Kennedy, a distinguished barrister in the UK, is the one such ‘rebel.’

JLF 2018 saw many speakers who held the attention of their audience with their powerful words. And one such session, which I had the good fortune of attending, was that of Helena Kennedy. Currently the Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, a member of the House of the Lords, she has worked for the rights of women for many years now. Kennedy is known to rebel against the whims and decisions of the House of Lords more frequently than any other Labour Peer and has a dissent rate of 33.3%. Whoa!

While it was her profile that led me to her session, Women and Power’ which she shared with Margaret Alva, the former governor of Rajasthan, it was her words that made me stay. “I have been labeled a ‘rebel’. If a male puts forward his thoughts he is being smart, if a woman does… Oh, oh! She is rebelling! I’ve gone against their policies, refusing to back down just because I am a female.”

Helena Kennedy

A woman next to me had then leaned in to whisper to me about how bold Helena is but I disagree. She is breaking barriers that shouldn’t have existed in the first place, the right to express her thoughts and opinions is not something she should have to fight for. 

It was only as JLF 2018 was reaching its conclusion, that I finally got the chance to interact with this lady with a dynamic personality. Excerpts:

Helena, in your session, Margaret Alva said how educational reforms can bring a change when it comes to promoting equality, do you think so too?

Oh, I so agree with her. But not just in schools, but it also has to embedded in their upbringing as well. I have two sons and a daughter and when it comes to teaching about feminism, consent and what is defined as sexual abuse, it is both the boy and the girl who needs to learn these things. Kids should be brought up as independent individuals who stand up to challenge these things. Men should know what they are doing to women is wrong, that a woman is not their entitled property and women should know that they need to boldly deny to accept the wrongs which could be seen in the seen #MeToo campaign.

That’s exactly what we need. While we are on the topic, a lot of older feminists have disagreed with how the movement is shaping up. Having worked for women’s rights for so many years, what is your take on it?

Well, what I think is the problem is that these women are naming and shaming men who are not given the chance to defend themselves. I won’t defend myself here but we have to accept that sometimes the man accused turns out to be innocent but the powerful waves this campaign has brought loops them in too, tarnishing their reputation. It has become too easy for men to be put out there as abusers without there being due process or proper assessment of the facts.

But if we look at the campaign’s bigger picture, it has been regarded as the harbinger of a new era where women won’t silently accept sexual abuse.

It is not a negative campaign, no. As I said, it has some shortcomings that should be dealt with. In fact, I like the campaign because I think women ditching the garb of secrecy and shame, coming out and naming their culprits. They are confidently pointing out how the system of law doesn’t protect them, and they had silently endured it all for years but not anymore.

During your session you said that you have #MeToo story too?

Yes, I do. I’ve been harassed by men, and I accept that instead of confronting them I choose the path of avoidance. I was sexually abused by a man whose name I wouldn’t want to take now, not because I am afraid or ashamed, but because he has reformed his ways since then, has a family and my words would only break all that.


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