Development & Alumni Relations Office 



'WOMEN IN LAW: IT'S HARD TO BE WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE'  

12 June 2019

A new installation in the School of Law at Queen’s by local artist Susie Rea celebrates the achievements of women working in the law across Northern Ireland.

The School of Law commissioned the project in 2018 as part of its ongoing commitment to the Athena SWAN Charter for gender equality, and its recognition of the importance of celebrating the successes of women.   

This project marks the centenary of women’s suffrage and of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which sought to ensure against the disqualification of women.

The brief was to create original artwork to visualise and celebrate women working in all aspects of the law in Northern Ireland, including future generations.

Artist Susie Rea read History at Cambridge University before studying Fine Art at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. Now living and working back in Northern Ireland, she is currently studying for a PhD at Ulster University.

In a statement about the installation, she said: "The concept for the project was born out of a simple idea: to make these women visible in a way that is relatable to those who will follow in their footsteps.

"For the students who will pass through the halls of the School of Law at Queen’s, it may be hard for them to imagine themselves in positions of responsibility, influence or power, where they could make a positive impact on the world.

"This project aims to show those young people that the judges, lawyers, teachers, politicians and policymakers of today were the students of yesterday, just like them."

The inspiration behind the title of the project – It’s hard to be what you can’t see – was coined by female lawyer and civil rights activist, Marian Wright Edelman, the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi bar.

Working with Dr Kathryn McNeilly from the School of Law, Ms Rea asked a number of high achieving women working in the legal world to write letters to their younger selves, to give advice and encouragement based on their career experiences over the years.  

Among those included in the installation – and featured in the accompanying publication – are letters from the Hon. Mrs Justice Keegan, one of the first women appointed to the High Court in Northern Ireland; The Hon. Ms Justice Doherty, CBE, former Judge of the High Court and Court of Appeal of Sierra Leone and Professor Monica McWilliams, former Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Among words of advice to her younger self, Mrs Justice Keegan suggests:

  • Don’t waste time worrying about things you cannot control
  • Do spend time thinking about how you can change things as lawyer
  • Know your mind and don’t be afraid to express your own view.

Professor McWilliams, who said of her time at University: “I learned to fly my wings at Queen’s and once I got going, I never stopped”, encouraged a younger Monica to ‘work hard and play hard’.

Ms Justice Doherty, who for eleven years was the first and only woman judge in the South Pacific Islands, has served as Parole Commissioner and as part-time Chair of Appeal Services in Northern Ireland since 2002.

Inspiring her younger self ‘not to rush in’, ‘to research, prepare and prepare again’, she concludes her letter by saying: “I know you have hopes for the future but life is going to dish out something different. It will not always be easy to accept; surprisingly it will make a difference for others.”

‘Women in Law: It’s hard to be what you can’t see’ is on show in the Moot Court Foyer, School of Law (1st floor, Main Site Tower above Junction) at Queen’s University Belfast.

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit graduate news items, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen's University Belfast or telephone: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.

 

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