The ACDP welcomes this debate commemorating 100 years of women being admitted into the legal profession. We, too, honour those brave women who pioneered admission, as pointed out by earlier speakers, resulting in the Women Legal Practitioners Act 7 of 1923.
Although the percentage of female legal practitioners has increased compared to pre-1994 numbers, many, sadly, still do not have the same access to opportunities as their male counterparts.
It is disgraceful that female law professionals should be regarded as less competent or not suited for certain types of law on account of their gender. In addition, women of colour often face additional discrimination by virtue of their race, alongside that of gender. This is wrong. It is regrettable that following many years of discrimination female advocates are not receiving sufficient briefs from attorneys.
In addition, female legal practitioners have stated that they face sexual harassment in the workplace. The Constitutional Court in Mcgregor v Public Health and Social Development Sectoral Bargaining Council stated unambiguously that “Sexual harassment is the most heinous misconduct that plagues the workplace. Although prohibited under the labour laws of this country, it persists…. Not only is it demeaning to the victim, but it undermines their dignity, integrity and self-worth, striking at the root of the person’s being.”
The ACDP agrees and welcomes the Legal Practice Council’s Sexual Harassment Policy. We trust, however, that it is being properly implemented. Sadly, and understandably, complainants often want to remain anonymous which makes it difficult to investigate these matters. We call on all in the legal fraternity, and indeed in all sectors of society, to stand against sexual harassment in the workplace. It must not be tolerated.
There are many notable achievements of women in the judiciary, such as the appointments of Justice Betty Molemela to as President of the Supreme Court of Appeal, and deputy Chief Justice Maya at the Constitutional Court.
Justice Maya has said that “the presence of women in the judiciary, as elsewhere, profoundly impacts the imperatives of a diverse society. Their participation creates a public decision-making entity that is aware of and sensitive to the different positions, experiences and needs of many individuals representing varying socio-economic backgrounds in our communities. The contribution women jurists make to the county’s jurisprudence is distinctive and unquestionably exceptional.”
The ACDP agrees. Women judges bring different perspectives and experiences strengthening the judicial systems. Women’s representation in law enforcement and judicial institutions have also resulted in more effective and empathetic victim-centered responses to crime.
While we can thus commemorate 100 years of the admission of women into the legal profession, much still needs to be done to remove barriers that still exist in preventing them fulfilling their full potential.
I thank you.”