Time to break the judiciary’s glass ceiling for women

On Friday 12 October, the Democratic Governance & Rights Unit (DGRU) of the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Sonke Gender Justice, lodged a formal complaint with the office of the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) calling on the CGE to investigate the lack of gender transformation in the judiciary.

Research conducted by the DGRU reveals that:

  • Constitutional Court: Only two of eleven justices are women.
  • Supreme Court of Appeal: only seven of 24 judges are women.
  • High Courts and Labour Court: Of 199 judges, only 46 are women. The worst statistics are from the North and South Gauteng High Courts where there are only 18 female judges out of the total number of 79, which is 22%.

Section 174(2) of the Constitution of South Africa, states that the judiciary needs to ‘reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of South Africa’ and that this ‘must be considered when judicial officers are appointed.’ This obligation reinforces the constitutional duty placed upon the state to uphold the right to equality enshrined in Section 9 of the Constitution.

Speaking in Cape Town shortly after having laid the complaint, DGRU Researcher Tabeth Masengu said:

“On the basis of our research, it is self-evident that there is a glass ceiling for potential women judges. This systematic discrimination goes to the heart of our constitutional values. Since the CGE is tasked to promote gender equality, we believe it is high time that they give full attention to this vital concern and we look forward to the Commission conducting an appropriate investigation”.

The Complaint cites as respondents:

  • The President – who is responsible for appointing Judges and has exclusive powers to appoint Constitutional Court Justices.
  • The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) – who are responsible for interviewing and shortlisting candidates for judicial office.
  • The Minister of Justice – who is responsible for the administration of justice.
  • The Chief Justice – who is the head of the judiciary.

Cherith Sanger, the Policy Advocacy and Research Unit Manager of Sonke said:

“The current status of the representation of women in the judiciary is concerning under a democratic dispensation. Improved representation of women in the judiciary can go a long way in advancing women’s interests by setting standards to increase the pace of gender transformation in communities.”

Starting on Tuesday 16 October, at the Grand Westin Hotel, Cape Town, the JSC will be interviewing candidates for a total of 13 positions on the High Courts of Kwa-Zulu Natal, North and South Gauteng, Western Cape and Eastern Cape. They will also interview for the Labour Court and Electoral Courts.

For further information, please contact:

  • Tabeth Masengu, Researcher, DGRU: 072 386 0546
  • Richard Calland, Associate Professor: UCT; Director: DGRU: 083 259 1736
  • Cherith Sanger, Policy, Advocacy and Research Manager, Sonke Gender Justice: 071 608 3357

www.dgru.uct.ac.za and www.genderjustice.org.za