On Monday the 22nd of May, the Centre for Gender History held its annual public engagement workshop in Glasgow Women's Library, a true hidden gem in the outskirts of central Glasgow. The Women's Library is the only accredited museum in the UK dedicated to women's lives, histories and achievements, so made a perfect setting for the workshop. The event was designed to explore the allocation and legal regulation of parental rights and responsibilities, past and present. Gender norms have heavily shaped the processes of entitlement and discrimination associated with fatherhood and motherhood which can be linked to the unequal distribution of resources and opportunities both within the home and in the workplace. The law also plays a crucial role in determining parental status and rights in relation to adoption, child custody and reproductive technology. This workshop brought together historians from a wide range of backgrounds, legal experts and women's rights campaigners, and combined historical and contemporary perspectives on the ways in which the law intersects and reacts with parenting in relation to political, social and economic vicissitudes.
Here is how the day unfolded:
9.45-10.00: Introduction by Professor Alexandra Shepard, Director of Centre for Gender History
10.00-11.15: Panel One: Parenting and the Law
Professor Muriel Robison: Parenting and Employment Law
Project Update: Women Negotiating the Boundaries of Justice, c.1100 c.1750: Parenting and the Law in History
11.15-11.45: Coffee Break
11.45-13:00: Panel Two: Parenting and Culpability
Engender, Emma Trottier: Parenting and Criminal Law: Incarcerating Mothers
Professor Louise Jackson: Juvenile Delinquency in Twentieth- Century Scotland
14.00-15.15: Panel Three: Parenting at the Margins
Shakti Women's Aid: No Recourse to Public Funds
Dr Frankie McCarthy: LGBT Parenting and the Law
15.15-16.00: Roundtable and Closing Remarks
A central theme running throughout the day involved the discussion of situations when the limitations of legal frameworks are exposed. As such, we explored the restrictions of the law in uniformly regulating the care of children, and the relative rights of parents (or legal guardians) in their contextual frameworks.The morning opened with a broad-based discussion on the legal regulation of parenting in medieval and early modern Europe, with members of our very own project team debunking wide-sweeping narratives perpetuating the notion of the passive medieval parent, the legal regulation and division of care provision in the early modern household, and the law's attempts in safeguarding financial provisions for medieval/early modern children. After setting the historical scene, the rest of the speakers approached parenting and the law from a range of perspectives. Underpinning much of the discussion was a recognition that women have been unfairly prejudiced in narratives discussing legal rights and personal responsibilities towards their children, especially in relation to accessing paid maternity leave, regulating children's delinquent behaviour, and accessing childcare when imprisoned for petty crimes.
There was also much focus on the underprivileged position of BME women within the legal system, who are often faced with tough barriers when attempting to access public funds and resources in relation to the care of their children. The increasing acknowledgement of the fluidity of modern day adult relationships, including the recognition of trans and non-binary gender identities, has also forced the law to rethink who can be legally considered a parent in our modern age, further challenging the historical trope of the nursing mother and disciplinary father in establishing order within a family household. Later in the day, the roundtable session allowed a closer scrutiny of the laws treatment of parenting in historical and contemporary settings. Issues surfaced around the treatment of children upon the irrevocable breakdown of a marriage/co-habiting same-sex partnership, and the ways in which the law has influenced and reshaped parental obligations through obstructive government policies, such as the recent family cap and rape clause.
Overall, what emerged from the workshop was a clear sense of the confluent perspectives on parenting and the law, the historical continuity of gender roles within parenting, and a commitment to further tease out and develop the threads of this discussion in future events.
A fuller reflection on the outcomes of this workshop will be publicised in due course.
The workshop in full swing