A last-minute room change is required at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, the accompanying venue to the Mitchell Library for the ever-growing Aye Write book festival, due to the popularity of this event. Baroness Helena Kennedy of the Shaws QC, to give her full title, is introduced by chair Ruth Wishart by her unofficial title: the petite firecracker, and is greeted by loud cheers – “I’m from a large family,” Kennedy jovially explains, “and most of them are here tonight.” They are here to listen to the distinguished human rights lawyer discuss her latest book, Eve Was Shamed: How British Justice is Failing Women, the follow-up she didn’t imagine she’d have to write to her 1993 publication Eve Was Framed: Women and British Justice, an exploration of how courts treat women. Unfairly, is the conclusion.
Despite over thirty years as one of Britain’s foremost lawyers, regularly appearing in the media and sitting in the House of Lords, south side-born Kennedy has lost none of her gallous Glasgow humour, reflecting on her introduction to English law school, where highborn students would talk of attending “Cock Ps”, which turned out to be cocktail parties.
It is her work defending women that she wants to focus on this evening, and introduces the subject with an anecdote of a recent journey on the London underground when a fellow passenger asked if she was “who I think you are”, to which Kennedy replied, “Well, if you’re about to kill your husband I might be your woman.” She remembers her mother saving money to give to a neighbour in their tenement to allow her to escape an abusive husband, and that memory has never left her, inspiring her to rally against a justice system made by men. She believes men in power need to understand women’s circumstances and treat us fairly.
#TimesUp and #MeToo are not about filling up Barlinnie, she argues, but about calling out unacceptable sexist and derogatory behaviour, and men have a responsibility to call out what they witness. She cites recent examples of court cases involving football and rugby players, where, all too familiarly, men were depicted as victims and abused women were publicly shamed as “bringing it on themselves”, and appeals to her audience “we all have a responsibility to create a fairer society”. Race is also discussed as Kennedy shares harrowing experiences of black colleagues who describe being followed around designer boutiques by security guards who think they will shoplift, based on nothing other than the colour of their skin.
There are many wise words to reflect on by the end of the evening, and Kennedy leaves us with one final thought: in the intervening years between the publications of Eve Was Framed and Eve Was Shamed a lot has happened, but more needs to change.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Gibson.
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