Women should be visible and show their competency

April 1st, 2022

Legal practitioner and founder and co-director of the Women in Law Awards (WOZA), Rehana Khan Parker.


Rehana Khan Parker is a 61-year-old legal practitioner, practising in the Western Cape for the past 29 years. Ms Parker was born in Cape Town, she is the eldest of five children of Gulzar Khan and Farieda Khan. She is a wife and a mother of three children. Ms Parker grew up in a family, which was grounded on humanitarian values and respect for fellow human beings irrespective of race, colour, religion or ethnicity. Her father came to South Africa (SA) from India in 1948 as a mathematics and language teacher and rose to politics as an uMkhonto we Sizwe veteran, her mother was a housewife whose mother was a Cape Malay.

Ms Parker grew up in an era of political unrest and her father played a major role in shaping her thoughts, in a family home where politics was the discussion at the dinner table. Her father received a Magisterial warning under the Suppression of Communism Act 44 of 1950, following his public lectures. The value of philanthropism was imbibed in her since her youth, by feeding the poor and defending the voiceless. Ms Parker runs her practice, RKP Attorneys Inc and has held acting positions in the Western Cape Division High Court and the Gauteng Local Division of the High Court.

De Rebus news reporter Kgomotso Ramotsho interviewed Ms Parker about her views.


Kgomotso Ramotsho (KR): Which field of legal matters do you specialise in and why?

Rehana Khan Parker (RKP): My practice developed into representing from the corporate from the government sectors to the most downtrodden, which includes defending the rights of farmworkers and settlements from eviction, with success.

I sharpened my toolkit by upskilling myself by becoming an arbitrator, a mediator in land issues and obtaining certificates in labour law, disability medicine and most recently a certificate in family law mediation from the Pan African Bar Association of South Africa.


KR: You are the founder of the Women in Law Awards (WOZA Awards). How did the WOZA Awards come about?

RKP: I am the founder and co-director of the first awards programme recognising the contribution of Women in Law WOZA (Pty) Ltd, the first of its kind on the African continent. The organisation was born from the BRICS Legal Forum conference when it was held in SA in 2018, where the presence of female legal practitioners in the room was glaringly absent. Something had to be done to entice female legal practitioners who are change-makers and trailblazers tucked in corners. The aim is to make them visible and showcase their competencies.

However, the WOZA Awards revealed the shortcomings of female legal practitioners and as a result, the Women in Law and Leadership Academy was formed.

Both these companies have taken the advancement of women in law in SA to great heights since its inception in August 2019, among its activities include:

  • Financial wellness.
  • Transformation of the legal profession.
  • Addressing skewed briefing patterns.
  • The participation in The Law Society (England and Wales) in their international roundtables and holding roundtables throughout SA with approximately 135 women on issues of unconscious bias and the gender pay gap.
  • Writing of a blog for the Institute for African Women in Law.
  • Interviews on the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) television channels on current issues on news slots.
  • The holding of several topical webinars with South African women judges making a difference with a view of forming a trained cadre of women in law in specialised areas – for example, webinars were held during the lockdown period.
  • The forming of mentorships for legal practitioners with South African women judges making a difference.
  • In the pipeline is the forming of a bursary fund for women in law.


KR: You have other projects that you are involved in, besides the WOZA Awards, can you briefly tell us about some of them?

RKP: We provide training programmes with the industry, judges, and academics, locally and globally, to empower and advance women. The Women in Law and Leadership Academy ensures that women become recognised for their professionalism, competence and skills. It was necessary to continue self-development training, especially in niche areas of law or work, which is exclusive. I use every avenue to speak up for women and question patterns of patriarchy.


KR: Why are the WOZA Awards specifically focusing on women, why are men not included?

RKP: Until and unless women gain their rightful place in the economy by ensuring women get their fair share of the briefing pie or board positions, the need for the stand-alone awards will be here to stay. While there is a legislative will to create parity, inclusive of structures by the Legal Practice Council (LPC), transformation in the private sector, where the wealth lies is slow. The awards are not exclusively for women, we do have a male champion of change award, the first of which was awarded in a special edition of our WOZA Awards, COVID-19 Awards in 2020.


KR: Do you think male legal practitioners have it easier in the legal profession, in regard to getting work and also with senior appointments, if yes, why do you think this is the case?

RKP: It is the old boys club and traditional networks that entrenches this. Women need to harness the value of networking and to oil the lamps of other women to act as support and mentorship. Network for net worth. I am a strong advocate of a sisterhood where we can refer work to the sisterhood and act as their mentors/crutches. Together we can achieve great things. However, we need to learn not to work against each other and to pull as we rise and pass the baton to younger legal practitioners. For example, I did not stand for the recent Provincial Council elections after many years of service which is in excess of 15 years, and it was time for me to pass the baton to younger professionals to serve the profession.


KR: Do you think SA is doing enough to address issues of crime against women and children, if not what do you think is lacking?

RKP: This is a hot potato. We have among the most progressive laws to protect women, however, this becomes frustrating when other arms of government who are mandated to ensure the criminal justice system works, instead one witnesses inordinate delays by South African Police Service. Their failure to investigate or follow up on a docket speedily, together with a lack of training on sensitive issues, for example, rape, leaves complainants to abandon their rights. Often it is the issue of lack of capacity, training, weak policing and victim-blaming. We need more police, trained on gender issues and more social workers, and more courts to ensure that we get cases heard swifter.


KR: What do you think about the justice system in SA?

RKP: The independence of the judiciary is crucial to the values of our Constitution. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the rule of law is intact, however, there are increasing concerns about the erosion of the doctrine of separation of powers and we as legal practitioners are officers of the court, must guard against such erosion. Our courts are clogged and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to adopt a new method for service delivery. Many of us were forced to sharpen our information technology skills. I support the notion of a virtual office and CaseLines being rolled out to all courts in SA.

We will certainly benefit from a specialist family court within the division of the High Court as a one-stop shop for everything related to family law from gender-based violence, interdicts to divorces. I do not think we are taking mediation seriously enough. Courts should be our last resort.  Mediation should be compulsory, as a prerequisite to issuing process so that only such matters which need to be heard will go to court. We should deepen our discussions with the offices of Legal Aid South Africa to consider avenues to address access to justice for the indigent in respect of mediation with a sliding scale fee for those who can afford it. Those who have the financial means may use their own mediators. A certificate would then be issued where mediation has failed or succeeded. Perhaps we need to research mediation processes around the world more deeply, such as in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.


KR: What do you think about the state of the Judiciary in SA?

RKP: It remains my opinion that the Judicial Service Commission interview panel must not consist of politicians. In that way, we can avoid political interference and I remain concerned where this has the potential to be an erosion of the rule of law. This panel should ideally consist of law academics and legal practitioners both on the practising roll and non-practising roll. I do understand that the Constitution would need to change to adopt this restriction.


KR: What are some of the contributions that we can expect from you in the legal profession, especially in regard to empowering candidate legal practitioners and young legal practitioners?

RKP: We continue to empower candidate legal practitioners and young professionals through our training, mentorships, and internships.

The past Admission Examination results for 2021, were shocking. While there is no evidence that it is COVID-19 related, as an examiner, I have been witnessing a deterioration over the past few years. The pass rate is my concern. I would like to see the profession reach a level where 70% of those who sat for the examinations achieve an average of 70%. We need to raise the bar. However, we are currently developing strategies to focus on our young professionals and candidate legal practitioners. In this regard, we have held webinars in 2021 with the University of Johannesburg, where students from across the country attended. This was in the form of a career junction which followed with a series of training programmes. We are currently looking at avenues to encourage postgraduate studies at Honours and Doctorate levels.

Ms Parker is currently a councillor with the Western Cape Provincial Council of the LPC, she was a Tribunal Chairperson for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sports in the Western Cape in 2013 to 2019, Advisory Board Member for the Unit of Applied Law at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, from 2017 to date. Board Member at the Victoria Hospital in Wynberg since 2017. She is also a Board Member for the South African Geographical Names Council since 2021, the Independent Development Trust since July 2021 and the International Peace College South Africa since 2017 to date.

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

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2022 (April) DR 16.

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