Communications Minister Faith Muthambi says women lawyers must play an active role in transforming the economy to cater for the needs of the majority.
Minister Muthambi said they should encourage government to introduce initiatives that will benefit both women lawyers and the country.
Speaking at a gala dinner organised by the South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) in Polokwane on Friday, Minister Muthambi said women lawyers can play a role in the roll out of government’s infrastructure projects by providing legal services and aice on transactions, service level agreements and project finance.
“Women lawyers must skill themselves in these new areas of economic activities. I have no doubt that women lawyers can lead the charge in providing expertise to government on matters such as maritime law, shale gas exploration regulations, international law and trade law,” she said.
Minister Muthambi called on women lawyers to acquire the necessary skills so they can offer professional services and expertise to government and state owned entities.
“We need to create a pool of women lawyers who excel in the fields of administrative law, constitutional law, policy, regulatory matters, and ICT law.
“As we continue to open economic opportunities for all, women lawyers must in turn continue to skill themselves so that they become preeminent legal specialists.”
The Minister said the time has come for women to take their rightful place in society. “Women lawyers must adopt a deliberate strategy to participate in decision making and policy dialogues in our country.”
She said SAWLA must nominate women to fill the ranks of state owned entities and agencies as board members when such opportunities arise.
“I encourage your members to participate in parliamentary processes and legislative debates in order to influence legislation, particularly insofar as gender equality is concerned.
“Our involvement will ensure that we remove all forms of discrimination against women and vulnerable members of our society.”
Minister Muthambi said women lawyers can be at the forefront of policy debates, thereby assisting government to produce policies that take cognisance of the needs of the majority of people.
“Women lawyers must lead the process of building a new jurisprudence by bringing legal challenges to practices, customs and laws which encourage gender inequality and discriminate against women and children.”
Minister Muthambi, a standing member of SAWLA, encouraged the members to take up positions in the judiciary so they can contribute towards its transformation.
“The legal profession, especially women lawyers, can be at the forefront of ensuring that people have access to justice at all times.”
She expressed concern about people who are unable to access justice because they cannot afford lawyers’ fees. “We cannot truly call ourselves members of the noble profession if the majority of our people are denied access to justice because they cannot afford to pay legal fees.”
She called on women lawyers to commit to taking a minimum of five cases from indigent persons annually on a pro bono basis. “We must fight for a society where the poor are able to access justice and enjoy the same legal rights as those who can afford to pay for the most expensive lawyers in our land.”
The South African Women Lawyers Association was established on 7 May 2006. It was established as a forum to empower women lawyers and to drive transformation of the legal system.
The birth of SAWLA was facilitated by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ amp CD), in response to an identified gap in women’s participation in decision making and policy dialogues in the sector.
SAWLA also seeks to provide a vehicle for women lawyers to contribute to the expansion of access to justice, particularly to women, children and other historically marginalised groups.
SAWLA currently has a national membership of about 900 women lawyers including, judges, magistrates, attorneys, candidate attorneys, aocates, state law aisors, corporate lawyers, prosecutors, law lectures, law students and paralegals.
Source : SAnews.gov.za