'Social and family responsibilities keep women from practising law': report

07 December 2016 - 16:50 By Roxanne Henderson

An investigative report released by the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) has highlighted the need to break down barriers preventing women from flourishing in the judiciary.

At the launch of the report in Johannesburg on Wednesday‚ CGE chairperson Mfanozelwe Shozi said those responsible for the legal fraternity's transformation had dropped the ball.

The report‚ which probed the pace of transformation in the judiciary‚ found that transformation is slow and that the Presidency‚ the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) had attempted to pass the buck when asked to account for this.

The CGE's investigation‚ launched by a complaint by the Sonke Gender Justice and the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit in 2012‚ also reached out to other associations to better understand the transformation picture.

The CGE found that while most university law graduates in the country are women‚ this was not reflected in the judiciary for various reasons.

A survey by the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) revealed some of these.

“Of key significance is the challenges listed to the social and family responsibilities carried by women. This in turn led to the indication from participants of the survey that it overcome these responsibilities and burden‚ that there should be 'flexible working hours‚ home offices and child care facilities at work'‚” the report said.

The LSSA also reported that on July 18‚ 2014‚ 37% of practising attorneys were women - a 5% increase in five years.

“The progression of 5% in five years is slow in view of the provided information that 56% of candidate attorneys are women‚” the report said.

Other barriers the report identified are the judiciary's institutional culture‚ sexist and racist perceptions and practices‚ opportunities for exposure to different types of work‚ briefing patterns‚ a lack of training and mentoring and lack of practical experience as acting judges.

The CGE called on stakeholders in the legal profession to engage in a national summit to deal with transformation‚ saying no institution can fix the problem alone.