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IAWL launches Women in Law and Leadership Reports on the Legal Profession in South Africa

A cross section of participants at the launch

The Institute for African Women in Law (IAWL) launched three reports on Women in Law and Leadership at the Constitutional Court of South Africa on the 24th of January, 2023. The Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) of South Africa, Honourable Justice Mandisa Maya, was the guest of honour and keynote speaker. Also in attendance were Botswana High Commissioner Designate, Honourable Justice Sanji Monageng and Judge President Thoba Poyo-Dlwati, distinguished guests from the legal fraternity, diplomatic missions, and philanthropic organizations.

Some Key Members of the Legal Fraternity in South Africa

The reports focused on the three legal professions in South Africa: the bar, the bench, and the legal academy. These South African reports were part of the research conducted in four African countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Senegal, and they summarized the empirical findings on women in law and leadership.

The reports were informed by questions that explored the points of attrition in the pipeline, barriers to retention, facilitators of promotion, and progress and trends regarding women's representation in leadership positions in the legal profession. In her remarks during the launch, DCJ Maya stated that despite existing policies by the state to curb these barriers, the discrimination of women within the legal profession continues to thrive.

A captured picture of Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya
“The fight for gender equality has spanned centuries since the beginning of humankind. If we continue to improve what has been achieved so far and strengthen the culture of support and upliftment, first amongst ourselves as women and in the broader society, we will win the battle-obviously not in 2030 as we bound ourselves when the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were established, but hopefully in this lifetime,” said DCJ Maya.

Also commenting on the necessity of the reports was the President of the Law Society of South Africa, Mabaeng Lenyai, who said more needs to be done to level the playing field for female legal practitioners in South Africa:

“Although the percentage of female legal practitioners has increased compared to the pre-1994 numbers. Female legal practitioners still do not have the same access to opportunities as their male counterparts.”
Ms. Mabaeng commenting on the necessity of the reports

Mabaeng emphasized the need for joint advocacy and investments to support women’s leadership in law in South Africa. She also urged other female legal practitioners to support one another to create an environment where they can thrive.

The Executive Director and Co-founder of Molefe-Dlepu Inc, Mrs. Kathleen Dlepu, gave the overview of the reports. She said the findings from the reports show that various approaches to the challenges faced by women in the legal sector are required.

A captured picture of Mrs. Dlepu
She added: “Overcoming these challenges will; require a collaborative and cohesive effort not just from the women in law but from the state, legal organizations, activists, and allies.”

The reports provide comprehensive recommendations that are expected to address barriers to women’s entry and rise to leadership. Some of these recommendations include the following:

  • creating policies to dismantle the multiple axes of gender-based discriminatory practices in the professions;

  • conducting gender audits to address gender gaps in hiring, promotion, and pay and

  • revising male-centered work policies and practices to accommodate the intersectional needs of women, amongst others.

Ms. Parker giving the closing remarks

Rehana Khan Parker, the director at RKP Attorneys Inc and WOZA, gave the closing remarks and commended IAWL for the reports. She also acknowledged the guests' and said their presence showcased their support for gender diversity, inclusion, and equity.

The full reports will soon be available on the IAWL website. For the event recap, click here.

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