Women make up a larger part of the human population but are relatively marginalized compared to their male counterparts. The topic on gender equality to some people, has become a rather boring topic and there is a perception (among those who are not directly affected) that this issue has been addressed, meaning that mechanisms have been introduced to deal with it, however it is clear that in some, if not most, fields it is still a struggle for women to advance up the corporate ladder.
Recent observers of the legal profession have noted that the number of women graduating from law school and entering the legal profession has increased significantly in the past two decades. Nonetheless, women still comprise a very small minority of lawyers in leadership positions in large corporate law firms. So while the presence of women in law school and the legal profession has improved greatly, the uncomfortable.
Irene Antoinette Geffen, the first woman to become a lawyer in South Africa and later a judge is an example of a barrier-breaking woman in law who paved the way for the following generations of women in law, however, many of the barriers that she had to face are still in existence, starting with the male attitudes towards women lawyers, the discriminatory practices in firms and the general cultural attitudes towards the role of women lawyer.
Historically women have needed to battle to get equivalent access to the practice and this struggle is still present now. Now the question is, “what is the solution to this problem?, It is high time that the Bar Councils and Law societies launch services to support women in this field, maybe mechanisms such as the Bar Nursery and a mentoring scheme for applying for higher positions and judicial appointment. They should also offer an equality and diversity helpline to all barristers, and provide information that is aimed at encouraging applications for judicial appointments specifically for underrepresented groups. Another answer to this questions is to tackle the outdated attitudes, stereotypes and assumptions – as well as the nepotism – that hold women back. This is a profession unlike, say, engineering, where there is a shortage of female entrants.
When over three out of five law students are women, there is clearly no lack of supply. The legal and judicial establishment needs to put in more effort for the removal of discrimination and for positive action to break down barriers to women’s progress. A lot of things around transformation has become what can be described as paper tigers. Women are told that certain things are going to happen [to hasten transformation] to address historically skewed briefing patterns, but there is very little follow up on these assurances. We need to do better. This is not only an issue that women need to sort out. This is an issue that we all need to address. Men and women.
Simbogile Siyali is BA Law graduate and LLB student.
• Former Research and Development Officer of the NWU Law Student Council.
• Current Legal Research Officer of the Black. Lawyers Association Chapter NWU-POTCH
• Global Youth Ambassador for AWAS
• Member of We Make Change.
• Member Student for Law and Social Justice.
• Semi finalist in the 2016 NWU intercamps Juta. Criminal Mock Trial Competition.