412 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 78 PART 3 MAY 2020
A Gender for Change
Over the past year, Debra Parkes (LL.B. ’97), Professor and Chair in Feminist
Legal Studies, and third-year law student Claire Kanigan have been
combing through archived materials to shed light on the history of women
and feminist activism at the law school. They are currently conducting
interviews to supplement their research.
“Working on this project has deepened my appreciation of the struggles
of women in the early years of the law school, particularly those from
diverse backgrounds, to pursue the study and practice of law,” said Claire.
“For example, I learned that multiple racialized groups were banned from
studying or practising law in B.C. until the 1940s. It was a long road to the
marker of gender parity in 1991, and even those numbers do not track intersectional
factors such as race, socioeconomic background, (dis)ability, sexual
orientation and family status, making it an incomplete record.
Additionally, non-binary identities are largely unrecorded. There are many
histories between the lines of various ‘firsts’ and numeric benchmarks in
graduation statistics, and I hope that this project can start to bring some of
those to light.”
For Debra, it is the stories that stand out and provide much inspiration.
“Patricia Proudfoot (LL.B. ’52), who passed away last fall as we were working
on this project, was the first woman to sit as a judge on all courts in British
Columbia. We can fast forward to Rumana Monzur (JD ’17), who survived
and thrives as a Vancouver lawyer after experiencing horrific misogynist
violence, and note many remarkable stories in between.”
Through their research, Claire and Debra have discovered many
moments of resistance and initiatives for change from within the law
school. One example that Claire came across took place in the early 1970s.
“There were no women’s washrooms in the law building, and students—
including the Honourable Lynn Smith, Q.C. (LL.B. ’73)—organized a successful
sit-in protest to have this changed. Those earlier struggles have
resonance with contemporary efforts to make the law school a more inclusive
place for transgender and non-binary students, efforts which include
calls for more all-gender washrooms in Allard Hall.”
To learn more about the project or to contribute, please contact Professor
Debra Parkes at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, the Office of the Provincial Medical
Health Officer, BC Centre for Disease Control and Ministry of Health has