Rossouw, who graduated from UWC with a LLB and LLM specialising in Public and Constitutional Law, has enjoyed an illustrious career in the private, governmental and non-governmental sectors. She is also an internationally recognised gender and human rights activist, global award winner, public speaker, moderator, facilitator, strategist, and consultant.
Rossouw was the youngest cabinet committee secretary in the Presidency, and she spent five years working in the national government before the age of 30. She admitted that being a woman, and a young one at that, working at a senior level in government, was challenging. “I needed to outwork, outsmart and outperform my male counterparts to prove my worth.” Working as a legal researcher for Justice Albie Sachs at the Constitutional Court was one of her career highlights.
Rossouw co-founded the Women Lead Movement, an organisation that advocates for gender equality, in 2017. Through the Women Lead Movement she met former US president, Barack Obama, and in 2018 she was selected as an Obama Leader in Africa. The organisation allows her to have an impact on the lives of others, she said.
Rossouw is no stranger to getting involved and she says her time at UWC provided her with the platform to explore her talents, skills and abilities. She became interested in student politics in her first year on campus and was elected to the Student Representative Council. “My learnings did not only take place in the lecture halls but also during my interactions with fellow students and lecturers. What stood out for me was the empathy and support we had for each other.”
Her commitment to community service stems from her mother who was a community worker and teacher in Bellville South. “My mother specifically helped abused women, children and elderly people. She served, and still serves, selflessly.” Rossouw said growing up in a community plagued by high unemployment, poverty, violence and substance abuse motivated her to bring healing, support and transformation to the lives of others. “We are all interconnected human beings and what affects one inevitably affects the other. Through community work, I have found purpose, peace and unfathomable joy.”
The former Kasselsvlei High School learner is ranked among the “100 Most Influential Young Africans” and was recently named one of the “100 Most Influential South Africans”.
Her advice to aspiring human rights activists and lawyers is to serve people with sincerity, respect and compassion. “Also remember that you will never know everything, stay humble and be open and willing to learn and change.” She acknowledged that the nature of her work is often complex, given the country’s deepening inequality and injustice. “I challenge you to stand and speak boldly for those who cannot. Stand, even if you stand alone.”
Melene Rossouw’s full biography
Images courtesy Women Lead Movement (main) and Brand South Africa