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Advocating for women’s rights at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

March 08, 2022

From pathbreaking coursework to pro bono advocacy, students at the Law School engage meaningfully in the fight to advance women’s rights, both locally and around the world.

With a resolute commitment to justice and equity for women both in the legal profession and beyond, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School offers students a myriad of opportunities to immerse themselves in studying and advocating for women’s rights.

Moreover, the Law School remains committed to supporting women legal scholars and, in recent years, has dramatically increased the percentage of women on our faculty; 45% of our standing faculty are currently women.

Studying women’s rights in the classroom

The Law School faculty includes several preeminent scholars of sex and gender equality. Their work crosses disciplinary boundaries and impacts a range of issues, including reproductive justice, international human rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. Some of our academic offerings that touch on sex and gender equality include:

  • Reproductive Rights & Justice,” a popular first-year class, taught by Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights. Roberts’ pathbreaking work lies the intersections of race, gender, family regulation, policing, medicine, and bioethics and has been recognized around the world. She is the author of over 100 scholarly works, including three major books and the prestigious foreword to the Harvard Law Review.
  • Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Law and Family,” taught by Professor of Law and History Serena Mayeri, who draws upon her research on the history of marriage as a legal institution for the course. Mayeri focuses her cross-disciplinary work at the intersection of gender and the law, using a historical lens to analyze family regulation.
  • Law and Sexuality,” a course that centers contemporary LGBTQ+ issues, such as employment discrimination, military service, family law, marriage and relationship rights, commercial sex work and trafficking, race and ethnicity in the regulation of sexual identity, discrimination in schools and equal access to education, and social movements as vehicles of change, taught by Jefferson B. Fordham Professor of Law and Deputy Dean for Equity and Inclusion Tobias Wolff.
  • Global Women’s Leadership Project,” led by Associate Dean of International Affairs Rangita de Silva de Alwis, who focuses her work on bias against women across the globe, teaching a series of courses and policy labs at the intersection of women’s rights, human rights, and leadership. Her “Women, Law, and Leadership” seminar profiles women’s leadership in law and business and develops indicators and policy imperatives to accelerate the goals of gender equality and diversity.  A collection of reports produced by seminar students features topics such as the importance of legal leaders’ prioritizing Black women’s health, inclusive leadership and allyship, and gender-based violence.

Extracurricular opportunities that center women’s rights and advancement

Beyond the classroom, students at the Law School have many opportunities to advocate for and find community within groups that center gender and sex equality. Many student-led pro bono groups within the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) dedicate their service to furthering the fights for gender and sex equality. The Law School also supports several affinity groups and student organizations wherein Law Students can find and cultivate community among their peers.

  • Student volunteers with If/When/How provide direct client services by counseling clients through judicial bypass process and escorting clinic patients; they also frequently partner with advocacy organizations to assist with legal research.
  • Student volunteers with the Trans Empowerment & Advocacy Project (TEA) support low-income trans and non-binary Philadelphians through legal name change processes as well as partner with impact litigation and policy organizations to assist in legal research aimed at improving the rights and lives of trans and non-binary communities.
  • The Penn Law Women’s Association (PLWA) traces its long history back to Carrie Kilgore L’1883, the first woman to graduate from the Law School and the namesake of the group’s annual networking dinner.
  • Penn Law Lambda works to cultivate community among LGBTQ+ students and advocate for LGBTQ+ issues in the Law School and legal profession.
  • Penn Law Feminists seeks to provide an inclusive space for students of all genders to grow as well-informed intersectional feminists.
  • Housed within the Institute for Law and Economics (ILE), the Women in Business Law Initiative, led by Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law Jill Fisch and Professor of Law Elizabeth Pollman, was created to promote women’s advancement in business law. Throughout the year, the initiative hosts events geared toward professional development, networking, and empowerment.

Alumni advocates

Many Law School alums have pursued careers fighting for sex and gender equality.

Learn more about the Law School’s commitment to training lawyers for the public interest.