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Thoughts on Lady Justice for International Women's Day 2020

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March 6, 2020

As we approach International Women’s Day on March 8th, an interesting thought occurred to me: Why is Justice a woman?

The image of a woman wearing a blindfold and holding a set of scales is familiar in legal symbolism. Often referred to as Lady Justice, she can be seen in front of courthouses as an imposing statue, or embossed on a medallion or other background image.

But why is the embodiment of the concept of justice a woman?

The Goddess of Justice has roots in antiquity. [1] To the ancient Egyptians, she was called Maat, and personified truth, justice and the cosmic order.[2] Maat used a scale to weigh the heart of a deceased person balanced against a single feather to determine if that person had led a virtuous life. Maat was thought to represent order and harmony.

The ancient Greeks called the Goddess of Justice Themis, who was originally an organizer of community affairs.[3] Themis was known as an interpreter of the will of the gods, and maintained order on Olympus.[4]

Justitia was the Roman version of the Goddess of Justice. The name is sometimes written in its Latin form, Ivstitia, as seen on one of two statues in front of the Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa (the other statue being Veritas, or truth). Justitia is often seen holding both a sword (for enforcement and respect) as well as a set of scales borrowed from her Egyptian counterpart (and sometimes a flame for good measure). She also often wears a blindfold to signal impartiality. (Many women can likely relate to the idea of trying to hold on to multiple things while feeling like they cannot see what is going on.)

I think it makes perfect sense, then, that the ideal of justice is personified as a woman. Women in our communities play key roles and are often relied upon to keep order inside and outside the home, organize the community, interpret the will of others (often relying on intuition), all while enforcing rules. The sword held by Justitia represents respect as well as enforcement. While many women are still often not duly respected for the various roles they play, as long as we keep holding onto our swords as well as our scales (and flames where necessary), hopefully it is only a matter of time before all women who fulfill such key roles in our communities are given the respect (and opportunities) they deserve.

Happy International Women’s Day! #EachForEqual

 

[1] https://lib.law.uw.edu/ref/themis.html

[2] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Maat-Egyptian-goddess

[3] See note 1

[4] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Themis-Greek-goddess