“When men are oppressed, it’s a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it’s tradition.”
-Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Author and Social Activist-
Take some time to meditate on that quote… really think about what it means for the oppression of women to be so normalised that it becomes instilled in tradition. That should send chills down your spine.
It’s time to break the tradition.
There is no point in skirting around the issue: gender inequality is a tradition that persists and thrives in post-apartheid South Africa even- somewhat ironically – in the country’s legal landscape. It’s incredibly alarming that an institution that’s in place to enforce and be representative of a fair and equal South Africa perpetuates the discrimination that it should be fighting.
The reality for women lawyers in the legal industry in South Africa
To put things in perspective, the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) released an investigative report in 2016 titled “The Lack of Gender Transformation in the Judiciary”. The report states that: “Over the past 20 years the number of women on the Constitutional Court has remained unchanged: two in 1994 and two in 2014; while the percentage of women in the other High Courts remains below 30%: as at October 2013, there were 77 female judges out of a total of 239 in South Africa”.
“Representatively, we have a long way ahead,” says LAW FOR ALL’s Managing Director, Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal. “The architecture of our economy and households have changed, but the legal minds who have to evolve the rules and regulations whereby we live have not kept up with this shift. Male perspective still greatly influences the law. As a result, we run the risk of creating laws that don’t match the playing field. For instance, take the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, which sees parental leave still being a responsibility that rests greatly on women, which has a dire effect on their careers and the gender equality gap in the workplace”.
Of course, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, as men dominate the legal profession, most of which are white – hardly the face of a transformed, democratic South Africa. The CGE canvassed 12 of the country’s biggest firms and found that “80% of the chief executives were white men, as well as 72% of all managing partners”.
Sexual harassment in the workplace remains a massive problem.
According to Business Insider, almost half (the exact figure is 43%) of women lawyers in South Africa have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. At LAW FOR ALL, we take sexual harassment very seriously and have strict policies in place to ensure that the women who work at the company feel safe and can excel. We are adamant about sending a clear message about what acceptable and respectable behaviour is at LAW FOR ALL.
Legal tip: just in case you need a reminder, here’s a guide to reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.
What’s the problem? Where is the disconnect?
If you ask a man, the answer will be something along the lines of women ‘being insufficiently rational and too intellectually inferior’ to be litigators and handle the pressures of the Bar. But, when you are asking a man, you are, more often than not, posing the question to the seemingly impenetrable wall of patriarchy. A barrier that’s built of bricks of ignorance and solidified by sexist perceptions. It’s the wall that contains and conceals the rampant gender inequality that still exists today. When company culture normalises the objectification of women colleagues and perpetuates the absurd idea that women attorneys are more efficient on cases ‘that women lawyers can relate to’ it institutionalises discrimination. Not to mention, we have to apply an intersectional lens to create awareness around the added discrimination experienced by African and queer women.
Be the change you want to see in the world #LAWFORALL
We need theoretical gender equality to become practical gender equality, and this can only be achieved if institutions uphold and implement the true values of our Constitution and take a wrecking ball to the patriarchal wall. At LAW FOR ALL, we are proud to be one of the frontrunners. We are a 50% female-owned company, and of the 73% of women employed at LAW FOR ALL, 62% are Black women.
“Transformation is at the forefront of every decision we make as a legal service provider. We must create the world we wish to see. Being in the legal industry, I believe there rests a greater onus on us to boost transformation, as it is the legal fraternity that shapes how we do things in the future. Representation and equal opportunity are essential elements for a truly democratic South Africa,” adds Adv. Nagtegaal.
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