Project to address gender transformation of the legal profession launched

August 25th, 2015
Front from left to right: Noxolo Maduba, Nolundi Nyati, Joyce Maluleke, Harshna Munglee, Brigitte Mabandla, Roseline Nyman, Faathima Mahomed, Seehaam Samaai, Pearl Andrews, Ntibidi Rampete, Keketso Maema, Fazoe Sydow, Chandre Brown and Prof Waheeda Amien. Back from left to right: Nonoza Potelwa, Patrick Jali, Ashraf Mahomed and Lucrecia Seafile were at the launch of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers’ research project focused on gender transformation of the legal profession in Cape Town in July.

Front from left to right: Noxolo Maduba, Nolundi Nyati, Joyce Maluleke, Harshna Munglee, Brigitte Mabandla, Roseline Nyman, Faathima Mahomed, Seehaam Samaai, Pearl Andrews, Ntibidi Rampete, Keketso Maema, Fazoe Sydow, Chandre Brown and Prof Waheeda Amien. Back from left to right: Nonoza Potelwa, Patrick Jali, Ashraf Mahomed and Lucrecia Seafile were at the launch of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers’ research project focused on gender transformation of the legal profession in Cape Town in July.

By Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele

The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) has launched a research project focused on gender transformation of the legal profession. The project was launched in Cape Town on 25 July. The theme for the project launch was ‘NADEL Moving the Women Agenda Forward’.

Through this project, NADEL aims to conduct interviews, produce a research questionnaire, as well as draw insight and advice on the issue of gender transformation. The research findings will be contained in a report, that NADEL will use to advocate for transformation of the profession, which will be circulated to the relevant government departments, as well as professional bodies.

The keynote speaker at the launch was former Justice Minister, Brigitte Mabandla, who spoke on the journey of struggle for gender justice and equality in South Africa.

Ms Mabandla started off by locating South Africa’s journey for gender justice in the global context. She said that since the ratification by the United Nations Member States to Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979 onwards, the status of women in the world had improved. ‘Notwithstanding reservations of many countries who acceded to CEDAW, the global impact was emancipatory for women. Acceding to CEDAW has enabled the development of global networks of progressive people for the advancement of human rights. After the adoption of CEDAW a number of platforms were created enabling smart networking for research institutions and solidarity among populations of our various countries. State parties to such treaties are enabled to collaborate productively. Significantly, today in developing countries such as South Africa, Rwanda, Liberia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and others, women are part of government decision making structures as well as part of business enterprise. As part of the community of nations, South Africa has acceded to CEDAW and is committed to international programmes such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action which is recast as Beijing+20,’ she said.

Ms Mabandla said lessons of the post-1994 project of advancing women’s human rights in the form of realising substantive equality under the Constitution and that of women’s overall socio-economic development should be instructive in the search for transformative solutions for the legal profession, adding that it is indisputable that the state is committed to advancing women’s socio-economic empowerment.

Ms Mabandla said the well-documen­ted struggles of women in the past 80 years has provided a solid foundation for organised resistance by women in South Africa. ‘In the past 35 years there has been intense push for women’s emancipation and development. The dynamic assertion of women against apartheid in the 80s is well documented’, she said.

Ms Mabandla spoke about how the Malibongwe Conference of 1989 laid the foundation for a firm inclusion of women’s rights and developing post-­Apartheid policies affirming gender justice, adding that it was attended by formations of women from both inside South Africa and from exile.

According to Ms Mabandla, the period 1990 – 1994 should be remembered as a time when women across the political, racial and class divides worked together for gender justice. ‘I want you to remember that the importance of this period is the fact that ordinary women’s voices in the discourse of transformation and Constitution making was sought and accommodated. The Women’s Coalition was established as a forum for consensus building among stakeholders and uniting women for the common good. Without doubt, there were inherent tensions among stakeholders and that was to be expected, and notwithstanding these tensions the Coalition held together. As such, the legacy of struggle networks and the continued work of gender activists are assets upon which we should build,’ she said.

Speaking on the concept note of the research project being launched, Ms Mabandla said it presented a wide scope of work, including a review of policy, legislation and interventions undertaken by state actors and others. She added that mainstreaming gender equality remained a big challenge and that she was hoping that a working definition of this issue would be developed.

Ms Mabandla said law reform should relate to society at large adding that the project of repealing apartheid legislation is being done and transformational legislation relating the new policies have in large parts been promulgated. She commended NADEL for organising the project and said that it was timely and has the potential of being a game changer for other professions and/or the business sector.

Former Justice Minister, Brigitte Mabandla, at the launch of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers’ research project focused on gender transformation of the legal profession in Cape Town in July.

Former Justice Minister, Brigitte Mabandla, at the launch of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers’ research project focused on gender transformation of the legal profession in Cape Town in July.

Ms Mabandla concluded her speech by saying: ‘It is a fact that, notwithstanding a heritage of strong professional bodies, legally qualified women are not as easily recognised for their ability as their male counterparts are in state agencies, the private sector and at tertiary institutions. This is not intended to undermine the significant gains made over the years, the pace has been slow and this is the problem. The public discussions of recent judicial hearings at the JSC was focused on the women candidates precisely because of the concern of having fewer women on the Bench when in fact the country has qualified women candidates. A lingering question for me is the impact that women have on a system that is built on patriarchy and what is to be done to ensure that the women in the profession become change agents and should continue not just as individuals but as a critical mass that must transform the legal and judicial system for the public good. I am, therefore, of the view that as our democracy matures our focus for transformation should be on greater inclusion of women. We should place greater focus on the transformative trajectory of changing perspectives and entrenching values of equality in action. The outcome of such research should help us understand the impediments to progress and how these can be overcome. The study will be invaluable to the state as it may contribute to the on-going policy review processes in state departments.’

The need for gender transformation

Director at the Justice Department, advocate Joyce Maluleke, spoke about the need for gender transformation in South Africa.  Ms Maluleke said that many women imagined that the battle for social justice was won when the Constitution became supreme law of the land, because it is intended to be ‘transformative’ in nature and the promotion of gender equality is a central part of the Constitution’s quest for a society based on equal enjoyment of all human rights, freedoms and life opportunities.

Ms Maluleke said injustices against women generally and especially those women at the intersection of race and gender, has virtually disappeared. ‘This includes all laws and formal policies that precluded women from entering any occupation or profession of their choice, owning property or engaging in any business venture. However, the whole world remains patriarchal, with men dominating all aspects of life – from the family to politics, business and the workplace, including the legal profession. Patriarchy is the philosophy underpinning women’s subordination on the one hand and male supremacy on the other, often referred to as the oldest form of discrimination in the world and a truly international phenomenon,’ she said.

Ms Maluleke said dislodging the legacy of patriarchy and masculinity, the foundations of sexism, simply goes against the grain of the existing power brokers and thus is considerably more challenging because the social patterns of exclusions and disadvantages that women experienced in the past remain a systemic feature of the South African social and economic landscape. ‘That is why always before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews; you will hear debates about women’s lack of experience to be appointed as judges. What is experience and who decides?’ she questioned.

According to Ms Maluleke, the failure to systematically identify, address and remove the under lying causes of discrimination, results in continued imbalances and inequalities between men and women and between races within the country.

Ms Maluleke said there has been and still is a great deal of confusion defining transformation and gender transformation. ‘Before one can identify, measure and tackle transformation, especially gender transformation, it is necessary to understand transformation and gender transformation. The Oxford Dictionary defines transformation in an organisational context, as a process of profound and radical change that orients an organisation in a new direction and takes it to an entirely different level of effectiveness. Unlike “turnaround” (which implies incremental progress on the same plane) transformation implies a basic change of character and little or no resemblance with the past configuration or structure,’ she said.

She added: ‘This is not the situation with the legal profession within its encompassing context. The legal profession has gone through a turnaround not transformation: Black people still get a raw deal. At the conclusion of apartheid, the legal profession, especially the judiciary for the purpose of continuity survived the political transition almost entirely intact; while the legislative and executive branches of government were replaced, the only innovation in respect of the judiciary was the creation of a Constitutional Court, which would serve as the highest court of appeal for constitutional members and the JSC to oversee transformation on the Bench. At the conclusion of apartheid, the South African judiciary was almost exclusively white and male, now impressive strides have been made.’

Ms Maluleke concluded by saying that the transformation of the legal profession is not all about representation only that leads to women having to assimilate to a system not designed for them.

The research project

NADEL national executive committee member and project team coordinator, Seehaam Samaai, set out the aim, purpose and objectives of the project. She stressed that the South African legal profession did not have the luxury of another 100 years to rectify the imbalances.

Ms Samaai said the project aims to facilitate dialogue sessions between and with women lawyers and legal professionals in the legal profession with the objective of stimulating robust debates and identifying key issues and challenges facing the legal profession in respect of gender transformation.

She added that the dialogue sessions will focus on the increased efforts required to promote the integration of women in the legal profession and the creation of an enabling environment for women to pursue a career in law.

‘A national research survey will also be conducted with the support of progressive organisations on the challenges facing women lawyers 20 years after democracy and compile a comprehensive report on its findings for further deliberations by relevant decision makers,’ she said.

Ms Samaai added: ‘An analysis of the 20 years of Democratic Governance indicates that considerable progress has been made in respect of the formal recognition of gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights in particular. In order to give effect to the rights enshrined in the Constitution in respect of gender equality we need to begin an examination and reflection on the mainstreaming of gender equality and women’s rights and whether women within the legal profession are experiencing substantive equality within the workplace.’

Ms Samaai said the transformation of the legal profession is essential in order to ensure transformation of the judiciary as well as transformation within our society. ‘The legal profession is but a microcosm of our society and so as we reflect on the challenge of gender transformation and equality as a country, we within the legal profession are required to reflect inwards on our own development in order to ensure that we reflect outwardly the vision of the Constitution,’ she said.

She added: ‘Discussion, research and advocacy is needed in order to assist in identifying key issues and challenges in respect of gender transformation within the legal profession. We aim to facilitate a paradigm shift where the impetus is not merely on numbers as an indicator of transformation, but where women and gender equality find substantive rights enjoyment, protection and promotion.’

NADEL will draw from existing research conducted in order to structure and guide its own research endeavors and to guide dialogue and engagements over the next months. Its aim is to engage with the other professional bodies such as the Black Lawyers Association, the South African Women Lawyers Association, the General Council of the Bar, as well as the law societies to enable wide participation and input from members of the legal profession.

The project will culminate in a research report that aims to confirm existing assumptions in respect of barriers to gender transformation and to also identify possible barriers, as well as explore possible areas of intervention and methodologies that can be implemented in order to advance substantive gender equality and transformation of the legal profession.

The first dialogue session

Dialogue sessions will also be conducted within the nine provinces with lawyers and legal stakeholders. The first such session was held in Cape Town on 1 August. According to Ms Samaai, more than 60 women lawyers attended the session.

Topics that were discussed included the meaning of transformation and whether it meant different things for different people, the barriers that impeded female and black lawyers, as well as recommendations to bring about change.

The women lawyers present indicated that the following aspects have to be addressed in order to promote transformation and realise gender transformation –

  • transforming institutional cultures, which entrenches sexism, patriarchy and discrimination by tackling it honestly and boldly;
  • transforming institutional systems that are rooted in patriarchal and colonel legacies including males in leadership positions within these structures to champion gender transformation;
  • men to be included in dialogue discussions to address the discriminatory practices;
  • increasing opportunities for mentorship and confidence building for black women lawyers; and
  • cooperation and support by critical institutions such as government, Chapter 9 institutions, Legal Aid South Africa, Bar councils, law societies, etcetera.

Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele NDip Journ (DUT) BTech Journ (TUT) is the news editor at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2015 (Sep) DR 8.

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