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Women in legal profession for a century, but still no real equality

While women have been practising law for a hundred years in South Africa, absolute equality is still wanting in the profession.

At present, women comprise nearly 50% of practising lawyers in the country. They sit on the judiciary and a woman is serving as the president of the highest court of appeal.

However, there is still discrimination, many challenges and barriers that women in the legal profession must overcome on a daily basis. Those include sexual harassment and the seemingly omnipresent “boys club” that hampers equal participation in the profession.

Stereotyping, like the assertion that women are more emotional and sensitive than men and are, therefore, not cut out to achieve success in this vocation, is encountered daily.

But women following this profession have already overcome much more than those prejudices, and so the barriers and stereotypes are wiped away one by one.

Today, women are some of the country’s top legal practitioners. Advocate Glynnes Breytenbach and Judge Betty Molamela are shining examples.

Society has also broken out of the constraints of gender and racial discrimination; these days it is the norm to strive towards an equitable society with merit-based outcomes.

That was not always the case, though. A hundred years ago, the judiciary not only discriminated against women in the legal profession, but racially driven legislation was also enforced.

Unfortunately, the ANC seems to be stuck in reverse, because for every step forward, this party takes two steps back.

This is all too evident in the ANC’s persistent measure whereby skin colour – like with the pencil test in the days of Apartheid – still determines whether South Africans will be successful in their chosen vocation.

The ANC is forcefully casting the country’s people back to a place where discrimination was legal, where some people were seen as less than human, and no more than a number or a percentage making up a quota.

The Women Legal Practitioners Act of 1923 succinctly declares that women in this profession will be subject to the same terms and conditions as their male counterparts, and that the law will enforce it accordingly.

If this century-old Act could declare equality lawful so many years ago, it is a pity that the ANC is still unable to implement it in practice.

Contact details: 072 997 8315

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