Patriarchal culture in the law fraternity is like 'an old boys club'

Of the 250 permanent judges in South Africa, only 93 are women, according to reports, a number that doesn't reflect the demographics of the country.

Only 43 of the 93 women are African which is arguably an under-appreciation of black women.

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To discuss the struggles of women in the legal fraternity, Eusebius McKaiser talks to corporate legal advisor Advocate Itumeleng Moeletsi, The Women's Legal Centre director Seeham Samaai and Independent communications law consultant professor Justine Limpitlaw.

Moeketsi says she has always known that she wanted to be part of the legal fraternity because she was aware of the high levels of injustice in society.

So quite early on in my life, I decided that I will study a legal qualification. I was fortunate enough to finish my Bcom law undergrad and then be able to go to finish off my LLB.

Itumeleng Moeletsi, Advocate - Corporate legal advisor ( non- practicing)

When she wanted to do her articles, she says opportunities were not readily available.

I started noticing that the people who would get articles, were legacy people who knew someone in the industry. I was not able to get articles and I was unemployed for a little while.

Itumeleng Moeletsi, Advocate - Corporate legal advisor ( non- practising)

She then applied to the independent bar.

[I wanted to] get admitted as an advocate so I can close off the legal chapter and use the acumen that I have and position myself in corporate, so that is why I am non-practicing.

Itumeleng Moeletsi, Advocate - Corporate legal advisor ( non- practicing)

One of the many challenges in the legal profession is attaining substantive equality, says Samaai.

One of the challenges within the fraternity is the patriarchal culture, which is an exclusionary culture. We need to acknowledge it, we need to see the problem before we can actually deal with it.

Seeham Samaai, Director - The Women's Legal Centre

The exclusion of women in the industry has been an issue for many years, she adds.

We need to see what can be put in place so that male-driven networks that provide significant advantage to a particular gender are taken down.

Seeham Samaai, Director - The Women's Legal Centre

She says there is an existence of an old boys club that has historically consisted of white males.

However, there is now an emerging formation amongst black men. We need to be able to speak about this as there is an intersection between race, gender and class.

Seeham Samaai, Director - The Women's Legal Centre

That triple form of discrimination is the exact challenge that women are facing, Samaai adds.

You have a woman that has an LLM that can't enter the profession.

Seeham Samaai, Director - The Women's Legal Centre

Limpitlaw says the law is a time-based profession.

Everyone that is involved in the law is selling their hours. That means when you are working at doing your work as a lawyer, you cannot be focused on anything else.

Professor Justine Limpitlaw, Independent communications law consultant

It is hard for women in the profession because the burden of childrearing falls on them, she says.

We are not going to fix the culture problems in the law firms or at the bar unless address patriarchy.

Professor Justine Limpitlaw, Independent communications law consultant

Listen below to the full discussion:


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