Women can help one another rise

December 23rd, 2021

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) held an event under the theme ‘Pull as You Rise “My Sister’s Keeper”’. The event was held in Johannesburg on 6 November 2021. In a video sent to SAWLA, former United Nations official, Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said SAWLA occupies a space in society because they contribute to making sure that society has order. She added that if people listen to the law and respect the law, there can be order in society. However, she pointed out that crimes against women are not properly prosecuted. She added that there is a need for organisations like SAWLA to take control of such issues. To protect women and to make sure that the perpetrators of violence against women know that there is a price to pay for crimes against women. She said that the perpetrators of these crimes, commit these crimes knowing that nothing will happen to them. She pointed out that women live with the people who abuse them and that they do not feel they have support from anyone, including the police force.

Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka said that she hoped that SAWLA could do its best to change the situation for victims of abuse who find themselves in these situations. She encouraged SAWLA members to be their sister’s keepers and support one another, to stand together with each other and to help one another. She said that women are a special breed, they know the challenges they have. Dr Mlambo-Ngcuka added that SAWLA is a respected organisation, and a lot is expected from them.

University of Venda Chancellor, Mojankunyana Gumbi, gave a virtual speech and said that she had reflected on the topic she was given, about women not being able to support one another. She pointed out that she will speak of women who support one another, as she is the product of support from other women. She added that she considered herself fortunate to have had the support of women across the board and not just women in the legal profession. ‘I continue to look up to women, as the generation that I interact with regularly are women much older than me, women who are in their 80s and some older than 80, who I look up to for guidance, who continue to support me in everything I do, not only on a personal level. I am talking about the professional level where they expose you to areas you have never been exposed to, pull you to boards of companies where your knowledge and expertise is stretched, and your capacity is stretched. They put you there to support you and make you grow,’ Ms Gumbi said.

Ms Gumbi added that having said what she said, she is not saying that women pull other women down and do not support them, it does not happen, and she has not seen it happen. Ms Gumbi said she has tried to understand why women will not support other women. ‘I think, it is an expression of their own insecurities and perhaps if we understood what their insecurities are, we may be able to assist those women. And a part of it is also a sense of a need to be the only one in the space, because they need affirmation from men,’ Ms Gumbi said. She pointed out if one goes to the corporate world, most of the highest positions there are occupied by men and once a woman rises to the top, they feel that to stay at the top they need affirmation from men or women who are more senior than they are.

Ms Gumbi added that there are women who just find it difficult to work with other women and do not want to work with them, and their characters cannot be corrected. She pointed out that if she comes across such a woman, she tries to find out why she is like that, what insecurities she may have to behave like that. She added that she tries to assure her that she is not there to replace her or challenge her or push her out. She pointed out that sometimes it helps to address such issues. She said that such women need to be educated, and by supporting other women, men will respect them if they are not the kind of women who wants to be the only woman in the space and not just look after their own interests.

Former Constitutional Court Judge, Yvonne Mokgoro, was the guest speaker at the South African Women Lawyers Association’s ‘Pull as You Rise “My Sister’s Keeper”’ event, held on 6 November 2021 in Johannesburg.

Former Constitutional Court Judge, Yvonne Mokgoro, said after listening to Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka’s speech, she believes that legal practitioners and the judiciary can break the circles of generational gender-based violence in the work that they do, as well as through the courts. She pointed out that looking at the objectives of SAWLA and other organisations, such as the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges, these organisations do not just look at the interest of female legal professionals, she said they look at the system of justice and equality and social justice generally.

When speaking on the issue of support for women by women, Justice Mokgoro said that sometimes people mistake the roles of responsibility with roles of power. When one thinks of high positions, they think of power and meanwhile in real terms it is a position of authority and a position of responsibility. She added that onwards one must use that responsibility to show that they are a leader, to contribute, to alleviating the difficulties and challenges that face female legal practitioners in the profession and outside of the profession.

Justice Mokgoro said she would like women to see positions of leadership not as positions of power, but as positions of responsibility. ‘When I was appointed to the Constitutional Court there was a media frenzy that there was this black woman who had been appointed to the judiciary’. She added that there was a recurring question from the media on how she felt about being the first black woman to be appointed. She said she replied that they had no idea of the huge sense of responsibility she felt. That suddenly there was a load that was placed on her shoulders to advance the agenda of gender transformation in South Africa and maybe the world.

Justice Mokgoro added that SAWLA was established by a group of women who were led by the then Minister of Justice, Brigitte Mabandla in 2006. She pointed out that the idea was to create a networking forum for female legal practitioners, advocating for their advancement and to the development of women’s leadership in the legal profession. She said importantly in SAWLA’s objectives to this day is to advance the interest of female legal practitioners in the context of transformation of society in general and the legal sector. She added that these objectives were not a mere thumb suck, they are derived from the pain and discrimination in the legal profession, where women councils hardly see briefs and the struggle that threatens the survival of their practices. Where the women at time constituted 30% of the judiciary.

Justice Mokgoro said women’s advancement is not just about the advancement of an individual but about the bigger picture that is revealed when women work alongside each other and work in unity, eliminating the systemic challenges, which stand in the way of female legal practitioners to reach their full potential as citizens and in accordance with what is envisioned in the preamble of the Constitution of the country. Justice Mokgoro pointed out female legal practitioners need to dispel the system of the ‘pull her down syndrome.’

In the comments that were made, among others, during the comment and answer session, former Deputy President of the Black Lawyers Association, Baitseng Rangata, gave a message of appreciation. She said that while listening to Judge Mokgoro she reflected on what she has been doing in the past few years while she has been in practice. She commended Justice Mokgoro for the work that she has done and said there is a difference now in the judiciary where the visibility of women can be seen. She pointed out that it is through the efforts of great women leaders, such as Justice Mokgoro, that female legal practitioners are lately being considered for acting judge positions. ‘I want to say amongst ourselves that as women, as we are given that opportunity, we should not forget that the opportunity is given to us, because people trust us, people see potential in us. We need to take that recommendation serious and work even double, so when the person that put you there, looks back and say I did not make a mistake,’ Ms Rangata said.

Ms Rangata also commended SAWLA for its initiative and said it was a good one and encouraged attendees to take this initiative to their communities. Other comments and suggestions were made during the session, attendees in the dialogue shared platforms where they can reach out to one another, where one may be faced with challenges as women, and where they can support each other. Others shared the inspiring stories on the journeys they have been on in their lives as legal practitioners.

Clinical psychologist, Naledi Mqhayi, presented a session where she spoke to the attendees on positivity and how to deal with one’s own thoughts.

Former Constitutional Court Judge, Yvonne Mokgoro, was the guest speaker at the South African Women Lawyers Association’s ‘Pull as You Rise “My Sister’s Keeper”’ event, held on 6 November 2021 in Johannesburg.

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