Society should play a role in women empowerment

October 1st, 2017

President of the South African Chapter of International Associations of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ), Judge Anna Shane Kgoele, opened the 13th Annual Conference of the association. Judge Kgoele said the aim of the SAC-IAWJ was to champion the rights of women and children.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The South African Chapter of International Association of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ), held its 13th Annual Conference in Polokwane. The conference themed ‘Wrap the wide arms of the law around those who need it,’ was a platform for the members of the association to discuss unsettling matters that affected ordinary society members and to talk about transformation within the judiciary.

The president of the SAC-IAWJ, Judge Anna Shane Kgoele, in her opening remarks said the conference was an opportunity for the association to take stock and audit their progress with regards to women empowerment. Judge Kgoele added that the aim of the SAC-IAWJ, was to champion the rights of women and children and that the association’s aspirational goal as stated in the preamble of the Constitution, was that of building a non-racist and non-sexist South Africa (SA) and it still is the association’s lodestar.

Judge Kgoele pointed out that it was an undisputed fact that women judges have contributed to progressive jurisprudence of SA. She said that there are many policies and laws, but the question that remains to be answered, is how do those policies and laws benefit society? Judge Kgoele noted that one of the association’s goals, goal 5 of the 17 developments goals, talks about achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.

‘The South African chapter platform has helped to strengthen the qualitative participation of women in the judiciary. We acknowledge that transformation this far has occurred in the judiciary,’ Judge Kgoele said. However, she said the transformation was not enough and the biggest challenge is whether ordinary people felt the transformation that has happened in the judiciary thus far. Judge Kgoele added that great strides have been made, but there are still unsettling realities of poverty, inequality, rape and violence against women in society.

Judge Kgoele acknowledged that society promotes women judges, however, she posed a question whether women judges give back to society and contribute to conditions of change. ‘This conference must provide an opportunity for an introspection for us women judges, to talk about transformation of society as a whole. We must make women who feel like they are not protected by our laws, feel like there is hope and we must take away their resentments,’ Judge Kgoele added.

Judge Kgoele said that the association must make sure that young women are inspired, however, she pointed out that women cannot do it on their own. She added that for women empowerment to succeed, men must be involved and help in the empowering of women.

Vice-President of the SAC-IAWJ, Judge Margie Victor, while outlining the goals of the conference, said that all the themes and programmes of the associations are always guided by the Constitution. She added that the association was worried about all the corruption that is taking place. She said that corruption meant that the poor and vulnerable get less and less.

Supreme Court of Appeal, Justice Zukisa Tshiqi, spoke about experiences from the Regional Judges Forum.

Experiences from the Regional Judges Forum

Supreme Court of Appeal, Justice Zukisa Tshiqi, discussed experiences from the Regional Judges Forum. Justice Tshiqi said the arms of the law were indeed as wide as the theme of the conference suggested. She added that the Bill of Rights in the Constitution is the cornerstone of democracy. ‘It enshrines the rights of all people and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. It binds the legislature, judiciary and all organs of state,’ Justice Tshiqi said.

Justice Tshiqi pointed out that the fundamental human rights of all people are also protected in the regional and international agreements countries have signed, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Justice Tshiqi said the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights on 25 June 1993, stated that it is a duty of the state regardless of the political, economic and cultural system to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedom.

Justice Tshiqi, referred to the case of Republic v Kenya National Examination Council [2009], she said that the court described human dignity as that intangible element that makes a human being complete. She added that human dignity goes to the heart of human identity and that human dignity is the cornerstone of other human rights, as it can be violated through humiliation, deprivation or dehumanisation.  Justice Tshigi said if we as a society rejected certain people because their identity did not conform to our understanding of what they should be, we would be dehumanising them.

Deputy Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo, opened the SAC-IAWJ’s 13th Annual Conference at Limpopo in August.

Deputy Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo, said that the question that needed to be asked was: What is meant to wrap the wide arm around those who need it? He said that the theme had many meanings and one of them meant the provision of legal protection to those in need of legal protection. Deputy Chief Justice Zondo added that the theme was an interpretation that promotes the spirit, purport and objects of the Bill of Rights as required by s 39(2) of the Constitution.

Deputy Chief Justice Zondo said the ‘arms of the law’, that the theme referred to, are the arms that can bring relief to those who are aggrieved, vulnerable, discriminated against and those who are marginalised in society. ‘It could not be that it contemplates the arms of the law that seeks to protect only a few. It could not be that it contemplates a law that seeks to displace large sections of the population from their land,’ Deputy Chief Justice Zondo said.

Deputy Chief Justice Zondo pointed out those who needed the protection of the law under the Apartheid regime, were prevented from being wrapped by the arms of the then legal system. He said this was because the system was the enemy of the majority of the people. However, Deputy Chief Justice Zondo said looking at the current legal system SA has, one can see the difference between the interim legal system and the legal system of the then Apartheid regime. Deputy Chief Justice Zondo noted that under the Apartheid legal system, SA was under parliamentary sovereign, but now under the current legal system the Constitution is the supreme law of the land.

Deputy Chief Justice Zondo referred back to the day women marched to the Union Buildings against the pass laws. He said the women were disgusted and had had enough with the Apartheid legal system. ‘Those brave and courageous women marched to the Union Building and said to Strijdom’s government. You strike a women, you strike a rock,’ Justice Zondo said. He added that after the women had made their mark, which is crucial in history, men also got into action and were prepared to face the soldiers and police.

Deputy Chief Justice Zondo thanked and acknowledged the role the SAC-IAWJ played in him being appointed as Deputy Chief Justice. He said the recommendation that the association submitted carried a lot of weight. He said that he appreciated support from all who supported him, but singled out the support of the association, because they provided the best motivation as to why he was to be Deputy Chief Justice of the country, by referencing as motivation the work he did as the then Deputy President of the Labour Appeal Court and the Labour Court, to increase the representation of women.

Deputy Chief Justice Zondo, praised and acknowledged, Justice Mandisa Maya as the first female President of the Supreme Court of Appeal. He said there was a need for transformation of the judiciary to ensure that as many women as possible are represented in the various courts of SA.

Constitutional Court’s Justice Leona Theron, spoke at the SAC-IAWJ. Justice Theron said transformation must be looked at differently and the judiciary must transform itself first, before transforming society.

Transformation of the judiciary

The Constitutional Court’s, Justice Leona Theron, spoke about the transformation of the judiciary. Justice Theron said that transformation must be looked at differently and the judiciary must transform itself first. Justice Theron pointed out that transformation is not only about magistrates being appointed as judges. She said it was about transforming the entire society, the community and the workplace in order to live up to the ideals of the Constitution and in order to be true to the oath of office.

‘Transformation starts by what you do outside of your job, as a lecture, as a magistrate and as a judge.’ Justice Theron said. She said some of the fruits of transformation was seeing more women judges in the judiciary. ‘We want to see more upward mobility of women in the judiciary. We want to see transformation at grass root level, we want to see transformation at our courts,’ Justice Theron added. She pointed out that there are challenges at courts, and asked what has been done about the challenges.

Justice Theron said transformation does not start with promotions, but starts with making a comfortable and clean environment for the people who go to courts to be served.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha was a guest speaker at the SAC-IAWJ’s Conference. Mr Masutha said the country needed to reflect on exploitation and abuse of women.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, was a guest speaker at the SAC-IAWJ. Mr Masutha said SA was prudent in declaring August a women’s month, acknowledging the contribution in the struggle of the country. Mr Masutha added that the country had many challenges and while it is appropriate to celebrate women’s achievements, the country needed to reflect on many women that have been victims of exploitation and abuse as a results of the ills in society filled with chauvinism and many other factors.

Mr Masutha said the SAC-IAWJ’s conference was to acknowledge women judges who made it to the legal profession despite having to overcome many challenges. He said women’s formal exclusion from practising law should have been ended by now and yet many years later there are still talks about exclusion of women, despite the fall of Apartheid.

‘I think it is going to take an effort by not only women, because overcoming this challenge is going to take the society as a whole, men and women, because the struggle of women should be the struggle of society,’ Mr Masutha said. He added that it did not make sense that men left the struggle of equality to women themselves. He said it should be a collective effort. He noted that there must be leadership dedicated to the cause of mobilising women practitioners.

Mr Masutha said that he had given a directive to women attorneys in all government work that falls in his portfolio, that black women practitioners should be given preference. He added that he received many complaints that black women practitioners are not getting work and urged that women practitioners direct the complaints to him. Mr Masutha noted that he had pleaded with legal practitioners, especially the ones who are historically excluded. ‘We are a profession that thrives on its excellence, anything less will make us perish, because there is no client that will tolerate a legal practitioner that is not only incompetent but simply do not do their work.’ Mr Masutha said. He said it was not just about talent but also the effort one makes.

Mr Masutha pointed out how female legal practitioners or female magistrates get criticised for their work or judgments handed out in court, just because they are women. He said that in instances where white male practitioners make bad judgments, they get overlooked because they have been in the industry for long. He noted that a legal practitioner is as good as their case.

Mr Masutha thanked the judiciary, legal profession, but particularly women practitioners and women judges, who despite many social challenges have opted to take up the daunting tasks to ensure that SA has a thriving judicial system, justice system and legal system that ensures that all people find the promises in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a reality in their everyday life.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Oct) DR 6.

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