Re-positioning women in the legal profession discussed at SAWLA AGM

December 1st, 2017

Outgoing president of the South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA), Noxolo Maduba, speaking at the recent SAWLA AGM held during ‘women’s month’.

By Mapula Sedutla

The South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) held its elective annual general meeting (AGM) under the theme ‘Re-positioning Women in the Legal Profession’. The AGM was aptly held during ‘women’s month’ in August.

Chairperson of the Attorneys Development Fund and treasurer of SAWLA, Nomahlubi Khwinana, welcomed delegates to the AGM. In her address, Ms Khwinana said the legal profession was currently taking a new dimension and this is where women lawyers can make their mark. ‘We must make sure that in all the organisations that we are part of we do not allow others to make decisions for us. We need to be bold, we need to protect and support each other, we should never laugh at other women,’ she added.

Outgoing President of SAWLA, Noxolo Maduba, began her address by saying that she was leaving her position with grace, that she had done her part and will give support to the next president. She urged women legal practitioners to be part of the deliberations on the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014. She questioned why there were only three women in the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) Council and no women in its Management Committee. ‘Why are women poorly represented in the decision making bodies of the LSSA?’ she asked.

Ms Maduba added: ‘There are barriers around us that should not be there. As women we should be able to hold each other’s hands and succeed. No one else will tell us what to do as women legal practitioners. No one else will make things happen for us, we cannot be bystanders in the profession. … We sometimes find ourselves in spaces that do not favor us. We need to take a closer look into what we can do to make the legal profession more welcoming to women. We need to make sure we leave a legacy that ensures that future women legal practitioners are welcomed in the profession. When you look at the history of our organisation, every time we have tried to put two women in positions of power, they compete [against] each other for that position. We should rather be supporting each other. Most importantly, as women we should not be scared to seek for assistance.’

Women Task Team

National Association of Democratic Lawyers nominee to the Council of the LSSA, Nolitha Jali, spoke about the Women Task Team, which was convened in June 2016.

National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) nominee to the Council of the LSSA, Nolitha Jali, said the Women Task Team was convened in June 2016, following a panel discussion on achievable objectives for promoting women in law during the 2016 LSSA AGM. ‘The task team identified two achievable objectives during 2017, which were to support the LSSA Significant Leadership program. The leadership program is aimed at assisting experienced women attorneys in developing business and leadership skills in order to occupy more senior positions in the profession. The second thing we support is the mentorship program. …. A proposal to promote gender ratio in the sponsorship of female candidate attorneys and those attending [practice management training] and [continuing professional development] courses has been tabled with the [Attorneys Development Fund].

Regarding mentorship, we have received feedback from female attorneys that they do not know what mentorship is. We are in the process of receiving funding from SASSETA, which will be used to roll out a one-day mentorship program for all those women who want to be mentors. We are also looking at doing this training online so that people do not have to leave their spaces to attend training and lose out on making money in their offices. We also work with LEAD in the mentorship program.’

Project on ending impunity towards violence against women

Founder and Executive Director of the Initiative for Strategic Litigation African, Sibongile Ndashe, said that South Africa has high levels of violence against women. She added: ‘There was a time earlier this year in March and April when there was just news about violence against women and that is because there is attention, it does not mean that there is something that is happening out of the ordinary. The news then disappears from the media but the violence actually continues. Where this project came from was through a series of conversations with many people who cared and said as lawyers what can we do as part of our response. One of the things that have happened in the early 2000s South Africa was leading in the development of jurisprudence on violence against women. … We celebrated those cases because what those cases were telling us was that for the very first time what the Constitution has done is to go and find us as women where we are and protect us.

The promise that by developing this jurisprudence it was going to trickle down and impact on every day violations that women would be able to sue the state if the police, the prosecutors, the judiciary do not do what they have to do … that did not happen. It did not happen because over the past 15 years, there has been a very silent but quiet clear obliterating of legal services provision. …Women are moved from pillar to post seeking justice and that is where this came from that as lawyers our response has to be more than what can we do [when] the state is not doing anything. That is where the campaign to end impunity came from.’

New National Executive Committee

  • President – Nolukhanyiso Gcilitshana.
  • Deputy President – Mpho Pooe.
  • Treasurer – Nomahlubi Khwinana.
  • Secretary – Podu Mamabolo.
  • Deputy Secretary – Zodwa Maluleke.

Mapula Sedutla NDip Journ (DUT) BTech (Journ) (TUT) is the editor of De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Dec) DR 4.