We op­press fine fe­male le­gal minds

CityPress - - Voices -

In a just so­ci­ety where democ­racy and equal­ity reign, one would ex­pect le­git­i­mate laws and le­git­i­mate in­sti­tu­tions. Ac­cord­ingly, a le­git­i­mate ju­di­cial sys­tem would have an equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of men and women. An equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of men and women in our courts has be­come a sig­nif­i­cant topic for de­bate in re­cent years be­cause the law of our land and its in­sti­tu­tions play a mean­ing­ful role in the at­tain­ment of gen­der equal­ity. In or­der for both men and women to move be­yond only the the­o­ret­i­cal en­joy­ment of all rights and free­doms, there is a re­quire­ment for an ac­tive af­fir­ma­tion of the rights of men and women by our ju­di­ciary. This re­quire­ment is un­der­pinned by a need for trans­for­ma­tion within the ranks of judges, mag­is­trates and even le­gal prac­ti­tion­ers.

Notwith­stand­ing the above cir­cum­stances and ini­tia­tives taken to trans­form the gen­der com­po­si­tion of the ju­di­ciary, the change is still dis­ap­point­ing. An anal­y­sis of the gen­der rep­re­sen­ta­tion within the ranks of mag­is­trates is not en­cour­ag­ing. Th­ese courts are those of first in­stance in most crim­i­nal and civil mat­ters. Cur­rently there are 384 dis­trict courts and nine re­gional di­vi­sions. As at April 2014 there were 1 711 mag­is­trates, of whom only 673 were women (39%).

Dur­ing democ­racy, 311 new judges have been ap­pointed, among them 76 women. Al­though a dis­mal num­ber of women were ap­pointed, it is heart­en­ing be­cause, as re­cently as 1994, there was only one fe­male judge in South Africa – Leonora van den Heever. It was shock­ing for her to find out that in the court build­ing there was no re­stroom for fe­male judges. She had to slip into the men’s toi­let, much to the con­ster­na­tion of her male col­leagues. Clearly, there was no ex­pec­ta­tion of women be­ing ap­pointed as judges.

In its Lack of Gen­der Trans­for­ma­tion in the Ju­di­ciary – 2016 in­ves­tiga­tive re­port, the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity (CGE) states that there are 92 fe­male and 248 male judges in South Africa. Fur­ther­more, the CGE found that, in ad­di­tion to “deep-rooted fac­tors that con­trib­ute to the sta­tus quo”, a sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cle to gen­der trans­for­ma­tion was “pa­tri­archy and sex­ism which con­tinue to per­sist, re­quir­ing women to prove them­selves in this male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion”. Th­ese deep-rooted fac­tors are linked to pa­tri­ar­chal prac­tices within the le­gal pro­fes­sion, such as brief­ing pat­terns at the Bar, where most judges are drawn from. Th­ese at­ti­tudes range from the no­tion that few women are emo­tion­ally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally ca­pa­ble of with­stand­ing the rigours and com­pet­i­tive at­mos­phere of the Bar to the no­tion that women are sim­ply not tena­cious enough to be lit­i­ga­tors. fam­ily lives, the com­fort of their homes, their ca­reers and the com­pan­ion­ship of their loved ones in the strug­gle for lib­er­a­tion, which was in re­al­ity a strug­gle for equal­ity.

There­fore, to al­low pa­tri­archy and its dev­as­tat­ing impact on South African women to con­tinue in any man­ner is of­fen­sive to the ster­ling con­tri­bu­tions made by ev­ery strug­gle hero­ine.

In its con­clud­ing re­marks, the CGE right­fully states that the “is­sues re­lat­ing to gen­der trans­for­ma­tion in the ju­di­ciary are broad and sen­si­tive with no easy so­lu­tion that can be ad­vanced”. This is in­deed an hon­est con­clu­sion be­cause no quick fix ex­ists to rem­edy the deep fault line called pa­tri­archy ex­ist­ing in the minds of men. It is dev­as­tat­ing and robs in­sti­tu­tions such as the ju­di­ciary of some of the finest minds within our so­ci­ety.

South Africa can­not af­ford this shame­ful phe­nom­e­non to con­tinue be­cause it is not only an in­sult to the legacy of ev­ery strug­gle hero­ine but also an ex­pen­sive drain of tal­ent and skills that our na­tion des­per­ately need to tran­scend the dif­fi­cult so­cioe­co­nomic evils that be­devil us. The op­pres­sive na­ture of pa­tri­archy robs us of women doc­tors, teach­ers, sci­en­tists, engi­neers and en­trepreneurs who would place our na­tion on track to­wards pros­per­ity, sus­tain­abil­ity and sta­bil­ity.

There­fore, it is high time that South Africans adopted a re­al­is­tic ap­proach to­wards fil­ter­ing from their so­ci­ety the toxic and de­grad­ing phe­nom­e­non of pa­tri­archy.

Anirudhra is a par­lia­men­tary of­fi­cer and Botha is a com­mis­sioner at the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity

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