Women in Law. Cricket Bats and Constitutions

determined face

“I have the honour of teaching the new generations of lawyers and I think they are extraordinary. Despite threats to global world order and general destabilisation, I am very hopeful for the future of women in international law”

Danielle Ireland Piper is Associate Professor of International and Comparative Constitutional Law at Bond University, Australia.

I am an Associate Professor of International Law and Constitutional Law at Bond University. I’ve worked in law firms, in government, with Judges, anti-corruption bodies, and with countries in the Asia-Pacific region. I have an LLM from the University of Cambridge, where I was a Chevening Scholar, and a PhD from the University of Queensland. I completed my PhD while working full time. I have published books and articles in my field.

It all started on a cricket pitch.

You see, the hall went silent before hushed horrified whispers of “it’s a girl” echoed back to me the day I signed up for an under 10s cricket team. It was 1989 in far-north Queensland, Australia. I turned up with my father for a turn to hold that bat. To hear the sound of a red leather bowl bounce on turf, and to feel the happy sting of a ball landing victoriously in my small outstretched hands. To hear teammates cry “Howzat” in a hybrid claim/plea of victory (for those from non-cricketing jurisdictions, this is a cry that echoes on the field when a player from the opposing side may be “out”). I was the only female in the entire competition and, initially, the boys didn’t really want me there. If I dropped the ball, it was because I was a girl. If I caught it, then it was a “sitter” (an easy catch that’s almost impossible to drop). This is nothing, of course, when compared to the restrictions placed on my sisters in other parts of the world. Nonetheless, it required my nine-year old self to develop some thick skin, hold my head high and keep turning up to an arena where I was not wanted, and to persevere. It was probably also my father’s unwavering belief and assertion of my right to be there, to train and to play, that kept me turning up. Five years later, my father was dead and there was no more cricket. He committed suicide. It was not his first attempt and his battle with mental illness caused great suffering. It also left scars on us all, not least my mother, who bore the brunt of it. Nonetheless, in asserting the right of his daughter to be on the field, he prepared me to work at my goals and not give in to adversity. All this, and my mother’s stubborn sense of social justice, started me on a path to become a lawyer and then legal academic and author.

Thing is, the under 10s cricket team eventually grew used to me over time. As with many things, humans tend to fear what they don’t know. Once we have a chance to genuinely live our lives with one another, we are more likely to accept, even celebrate, the virtue of difference, but also to realise we have far more in common than that which divides us.

Further, when we understand our right to be somewhere, we have the knowledge that enables us to stand our ground. This is why knowledge is so powerful and why it is so problematic, that, as at 2015, Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people. According to global statistics, just 39 percent of rural girls attend secondary school. This is far fewer than rural boys (45 percent), urban girls (59 percent) and urban boys (60 percent). Imagine the bravery of women around the world today who still stand their ground in arenas that matter far more than under 10s cricket, and in contexts where they are wanted even less than I was on that cricket field, initially.

This makes me very lucky for having attended more than ten schools, some attended from tents and caravan parks, and not unlucky and disruptive as some might see it. There was always books. Always dictionaries. Always a yarn. And always discussions about political and intellectual life. I first attempted to join Amnesty International at 4 years of age. I was absorbed by “I-Claudius” and Scott O’Dell’s, “Island of Blue Dolphins” – based loosely on a true story – left lasting impressions on my eight-year old mind about the capacity of women to survive. Regardless of some up and down times, evidently this is an environment that breeds a legal scholar. I am forever grateful.

What does my story have to do with Women in Law? My modest journey from cricket bats to constitutions taught me that Law is a sword with which to fight injustice or enforce oppression. Law is both liberator and oppressor. Law is the language we use to speak truth to power in defence of the weak. Law is also the instrument of the powerful against the powerless. Lawyers and lawmakers can make a difference and are better equipped to do so when part of a diverse community of professionals. Gender, ethnic and cultural diversity in our profession enhances decision making and makes us a more effective and dynamic community of thinkers.

To allow women their turn on the cricket field, in the court room, in the lecture theatres, and as part of the legislature, requires, in my view, both supportive men, and genuine female role models and mentors. When my father marched me into a cricket sign-up day where I wasn’t really wanted and urged me to stay until I was, he started to clear a path. When my mother taught us the politics of social justice and the powers of words, she continued to dig out that path for me.  When a handful of school teachers saw past the ratbag in me and gave me second, third and fourth chances, they started to lay stones on that path. And when I had the good fortune to work and learn from women such as the Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel during her tenure at the Federal Court, former NSW Minister Reba Meagher, as well as being encouraged and supported by many good men, including a kind husband, and two excellent PhD supervisors, the path was firm enough for me to walk safely. I have been inspired from a distance by smart, strong female public commentators like Dr. Susan Carland, and Dr. Megan Davies, who has undertaken extraordinary and important work for Indigenous Peoples in Australia. I have been fortunate to encounter Srimati Syamarani Didi and Sudevi Devi Dasi who I would describe as female spiritual warriors and I have also been inspired by many of my peers, women who have done extraordinary things in law, each in their own unique way: Clair Duffy, Kate Gibson, Kirsten Hagon, and Jodie O’Leary, just to name a few from a very long list.

Nonetheless, even today, I sometimes still see the underestimation of my abilities reflected in the eyes of some who probably also don’t think I should have been on that cricket field.  But I’m now lucky enough to have the honour of teaching new generations of lawyers and I think they are extraordinary. Despite threats to global world order and general destabilisation, I am very hopeful for the future of women in law and leadership. Howzat.

Danielle’s book ‘Accountability in Extraterritoriality: A Comparative and International Law Perspective’ is available to view here.

Ireland-Piper

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2 Comments on “Women in Law. Cricket Bats and Constitutions”

  1. clairduffy76 Says:

    Danielle,

    This is a beautiful testament to you, your family, your work, and your sisters.

    Thanks so much for putting it out there.

    Love. xx

    Reply

  2. Lloyd Says:

    Beautifully written and highly enjoyable. May you keep ducking those bouncers and knocking other deliveries to the boundary.

    Reply

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