Call for more female judges in South Africa
Lulu Xingwana, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities in South Africa has called for more gender and race equality in the judiciary and more women judges on the bench.
Xingwana was addressing a gathering of the International Association of Women Judges in Port Elizabeth when she made her statement.
The conference theme was ‘Judicial Leadership: An Inclusive Judiciary’ and considered issues such as judicial ethics, and documenting the work of women.
In her speech, Xingwana talked more broadly about the persistent sexism and gender inequality in her country, saying that women were forced to continue to operate under a patriarchal system.
More specifically, she was concerned at the slow pace of change and progress towards equality between the sexes, particularly in the judiciary – Africa’s first female Judge President, Monica Leeuw, was appointed only two years ago.
She cited the constitution as a model for change.
‘The pursuit of race and gender representation is not an idle numbers game, but a constitutional imperative… [The Constitution] requires that when appointing judicial officers, the need for the judiciary to reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of South Africa should be considered.’
She continued: ‘We would like to see 50:50 gender parity in the judiciary,’ adding that, since women make up over half of the population in South Africa, this was ‘reasonable to demand’.
Xingwana also criticised male members of the judiciary who held “entrenched negative attitudes towards gender equality”, and who said that women were not competent to decide cases.
She stated: ‘Quite often, when we talk about women representation on the bench, we are told there are no women to appoint.
‘This is an insult to all women in the legal profession. I believe that women are as competent as their male counterparts. The real reasons behind such assertions are the stereotypes that influence the perception of the world around us.’
She also pointed out that better representation of women in the judiciary would increase women’s access to justice.
The conference was timely, as the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill will progress to the Cabinet in the coming months. The Bill is aimed at putting legal requirements in place for the government and private sector to adopt gender equality employment policies.
Xingwana also said that the Cabinet had approved the establishment of the National Council against Gender-based Violence, which will launch next month.
But, warning that there could be no complacency in the fight for equality, she said: