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The Legal Status of Women: The Journey Toward Equality

  • Sandra Day O'Connor


It gives me great pleasure to be here today and to give remarks on a subject in which I take considerable interest, the legal and social status of women. I would like to thank Ambassador Mejdoub, the Hannibal Club, and the President's Interagency Council on Women for providing this forum to discuss and promote women's issues.

Women from all countries have much to share with each other about their own cultures, experiences, successes, and failures. Today, as always, women are the primary caregivers worldwide. We bear and nurture the children, and we manage the household for our families. But we also work outside the home. We want and expect to have equal opportunities in business, in the professions, and in public service. We want and expect to be paid as much as men for the same work. While women have made tremendous advances in this century, the process of achieving gender equality is still an ongoing one, in this country and throughout the world. In many respects, we have traveled far, although we have a way yet to go. We remember the old adage that “[t]he test of every civilization is the position of women in the society.”



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1. Dr.Shams, Shamsuddin, Socio-Legal Rights and Privileges of Women in Islam, in Women, Law and Social Change 3 (Ashish Publg. 1991).

2. Hoff, Joan, Law. Gender, and Injustice 62 (N.Y.U. Press 1991).

3. Rhode, Deborah L., Justice and Gender 20 (Harv. U. Press 1989).

4. Id. at 9.

5. Hoff, supra n. 3, at 37.

6. Tennyson, Alfred Lord, Locksley Hall (McMillan Pubig. 1842).

7. Bradwell v. Illinois, 16 Wall. 130, 141 (1873) (Bradley, Swayne & Field, JJ. concurring).

8. Hoff, supra n. 2, at 119.

9. Id. at 128.

10. Rhode, supra n. 3, at 27.

11. The United Nations and the Advancement of Women 1945-1996 at 9 (United Nations 1996).

12. Id. at 3.

13. Id. at 126.

14. Gaer, Felice D., And Never the Twain Shall Meet? The Struggle to Establish Women's Rights as International Human Rights, in The International Human Rights of Women: Instruments of Change 910 (Lockwood, Carol Elizabeth, et al. eds., ABA Publg. 1998).

15. Id.

16. Id.

17. Rights of Women: A Guide to the Most Important U.N. Treaties on Women's Human Rights 79 (Intl. Women's Tribune Ctr. 1998).

18. The United Nations and the Advancement of Women, supra n. 11, at 3, 17-19.

19. Id. at 23.

20. Hazou, Winnie, The Social and Legal Status of Women: A Global Perspective 8 (Praeger 1990).

21. The United Nations and the Advancement of Women, supra n. 11, at 5, 42, 72.

22. Fact Sheet from Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues, Dept. of State, March 10, 1998, on's/factsheet.html

23. Report for Congress, Women-Their Status and Rights Under International Law and the Laws of Selected Foreign Nations LL 96-4, 95-2550, at 222 (Feb. 1996). A “Survey of the laws affecting women's rights in 23 different countries” prepared by the staff of the law library, Lib. of Cong.

Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C, September 28, 1999.


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