Port Elizabeth: While South Africa has recorded great strides in the quest for women empowerment and gender equality, there was still persistent inequality between women and men, says Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana.
The problem was compounded by the continuing practices of patriarchy and sexism, Xingwana said at a gala dinner to honour women judges on Friday night.
She told the gathering in the Eastern Cape, organised by the International Association of Women Judges, that her department remained concerned about the slow pace of transformation in the judiciary to include more women on the bench.
“Quite often, when we talk about women representation on the bench, we are told that there are no women to appoint. This is an insult to all women in the legal profession,” Xingwana said.
She believed that women were as competent as their male counterparts.
“The real reasons behind such assertions are the stereotypes that influence the perception of the world around us.”
South Africa’s first female Judge President was only appointed two years ago when President Jacob Zuma approved the nomination of Judge Monica Leeuw to lead the North West High Court in 2010.
Xingwana now wants to see 50-50 gender parity in the judiciary. Her address was a strong call for South Africa to do more to ensure that women took their rightful place in the country’s courts. It was also seen to be reflective of the frustration felt by many at the perceived slow pace of transformation in key sectors of governance and the economy.
“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.”
Given the fact that women constituted 52% of the population of South Africa, it was reasonable to demand that the judiciary should progressively realise the 52% women representation on the bench, said Xingwana.
As a country that had made great strides since the attainment of democracy in 1994, South Africa should be careful of “attempts to reverse some of the gains we have made in this direction,” the minister warned.
“I call on women judicial officers to become vocal on matters such as these so that together, we can ensure that the agenda of women empowerment and gender equality is consolidated and advanced.”
Turning her focus to the issue of violence against women, Xingwana moved to underscore that government had done fairly well in tackling the war against gender-based violence.
Cabinet had approved the establishment of the National Council against Gender-based Violence, which is a high-level, multi-sectoral national response to the scourge.
Led by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, the minister expressed confidence that the work of the council would lead to a significant reduction in the incidents of violence against women and children.
The council will be launched later this month. It will, among other things, review and monitor the implementation of the existing 365 Days National Action Plan on No Violence against Women and Children, which was adopted on 8 May 2007.