Judiciary gender reform is ‘too slow’

The article below appeared in Pretoria News on 08 December 2016
By Luyolo Mkentane

President Jacob Zuma, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Justice Minister Michael Masutha and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) have been roundly criticised for the slow pace of gender transformation in the judiciary

“All those parties have been found wanting. They have to jack up and put plans in place to deal with gender inequality The slow pace indicates that those that are supposed to be driving transform­ation are not doing their jobs,” said Mfanozelwe Shozi, chairman of the Commission for Gender Equality.

Shozi and his colleagues spoke at the launch of their investigative report on gender transformation within the judicial system.

The investigation was as a result of a complaint lodged by the Democratic Governance and Rights Units, a University of Cape Town research unit, and non-profit organisation Sonke Gender Justice, in October 2012.

Of the country’s permanent judges, 69 were African males, fol­lowed by their white counterparts at 60; African females stood at 38 and their white counterparts at 27; coloured males and females stood at 14 and 10 respectively; and Indian males and females accounted for 13 and 11 respectively

The report said this illustrated that the judiciary “is not reflective of the broader racial and gender society in which we live”.

It also stated that during the 2014/15 financial year the state attor­ney gave 572 briefs to counsel.

Of those, 272 briefs went to female advocates and 300 to males.

Departmental head of legal ser­vices Marissa van Niekerk said the goal of gender transformation in the judiciary was being addressed in silos as “opposed to a holistic and co-ordinated approach”.

One of the findings pertained to “finger-pointing” by key stakehold­ers as to who “bears the ultimate responsibility to ensure gender transformation within the judi­ciary”.

Commissioner Pinkie Sobahle said: “The president says it’s not me, it’s the JSC, and the JSC says no, it’s not me. We need to address that because it’s everybody’s responsib­ility, from the bottom up.”

The lack of female leadership at institutions such as the Law Soci­ety of SA; inaccessibility of venues used by the JSC, and patriarchy and sexism within the profession, were identified as some of the hindrances towards achieving the much needed transformation.

But Van Niekerk said it was not the correct approach to have one institution take responsibility for the paucity of women in the pro­fession. It was recommended that the commission, Ministry of Justice, the JSC, the portfolio committee on justice, and the Presidency, convene a national summit to engage key stakeholders to discuss the matter.

JSC spokesman Dumisa Ntsebeza, SC, said transformation in the profession needed to be put in context. He, however, admitted that the pace in which positions were being filled “has not been pacey as I think the situation would justify”.

There were 165 judges in 1994, of which 160 were white men, three black men and two white women, according to the report. In 2013, there were 74 female judges.

Ntsebeza said that associations of female judges and practitioners had not been on the coalface of recom­mending their colleagues for senior most positions in the judiciary.