Tujilane Rose Chizumila
Judge, African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights
Former High Commissioner of Malawi to Zimbabwe and SADC
Judge of the High Court of Malawi
Former Public Ombudsman of Malawi
An elderly man with dusty feet opened the door into my office and instantly stopped in his tracks. He looked around peeping in all directions. I welcomed him warmly to take a seat as he seemed confused. But he said “sorry it’s a wrong office.” He quietly closed the door behind him only to walk in again within one minute. I welcomed him again but he gave me the same response and quickly left my office. I followed him to the reception and asked my secretary what the problem was. She explained that he wanted to see a lawyer to handle his case so she directed him to me. I invited him to follow me and offered him a seat again.
This time he sat down but he refused to share his matter with me saying “I am looking for a lawyer. Where is the lawyer?” When I responded that I was the lawyer, he roared “What, you are a lawyer? My case is too complicated for a woman. It needs a tough man!” I patiently and plainly explained to him that both female and male lawyers are taught by the same teachers, write the same exams and are treated equally.
I promised to handle his case without the requisite deposit until the day I won his case. He stood up, shook his head then sat down again and narrated his matter to me. It was a simple trespass of land. The day I won the case he sat glued to the court bench shaking his head. When I walked to him, he stood up and said in disbelief “Madam, you have won my tough case? You are a man!” Then he shook my hand. He faithfully paid my fee note and better still for over 2 years I received several clients from his village all referred to me by him.
There are many lessons I learnt from this old man. One was to never judge a client by appearance. I sued several of my well-dressed clients after they failed to pay me at the end of their cases. My message to my fellow women is that we have all been somewhere very tough and painful because of being a woman but we should always remain resilient, focused and support one another. My request to you all is let us be available for each other, at an instant, with a shoulder to cry on and a hand to lift each other up when the going gets unbearable which happens often. Let’s build a sisterhood of support!