The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has a proud history of women legal practitioners who have made a positive contribution in South Africa and around the world after graduating and during the course of their careers.
While we celebrate Women’s Month this month, the journey of honouring women in law started at the UWC Law Faculty in April when The Research Unit for Legal and Constitutional Interpretation (RULCI), together with the Faculty of Law, hosted a day of reflection, poetry and art in honour of the late Drucilla Cornell. Cornell was a profound ethical feminist, legal theorist and author.
Acclaimed poet Diana Ferrus penned a special poem written for the faculty, entitled, 1923:
“While men were bombing, blasting away the world
Women prepared a future by patching up the present
They knew that men would stop their games
And return hungry, heavy and angry
World War I brought men to their knees
It was the women who pulled them up
Yet, in spite of that it was only after five long years
That men let go of their fears
Reluctantly, allowed women to practise law
Never admitting that they were in awe”
On Friday, 4 August 2023, another chapter acknowledging the journey of women law practitioners will be launched: a podcast entitled 100 Years of Women in Law: A Podcast Celebrating Women.
UWC’s Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic, Professor Vivienne Lawack, is spearheading the 10-part podcast series celebrating 100 years of women in law. The series, produced through another of Prof Lawack’s initiatives - ZoneLearning at UWC - covers a range of women in the legal profession and their highs and lows.
The women share their insights and reflections on women’s next 100 years. Sazi Tshangana, Rorisang Mzozoyana, Cherith Sanger and Prof Lawack are just some of the women featured in the podcast who share their experiences.
Prof Lawack says: “There are tea stories. I’m the only payment system lawyer at the table and then I get asked to pour the tea. And I took a stand and I said no. Because if I pour the tea for you today, the rest is easy. When you take that stand and you are respected for that, they must recognise that you are not there to pour anyone’s tea; you are there because you also earned your place at the table.”
It has been 100 years since the first woman was admitted as an advocate in South Africa. Her name was Irene Geffen. Back in 1923, opportunities were limited for women, and in most instances, they were expected to serve men. Society expected women to be at home - charged with household chores and raising children. However, the tireless struggles of women like Advocate Geffen, Helen Joseph, Bertha Gxowa (Mashaba), Charlotte Maxeke, Adelaide Tambo, and Winnie Mandela changed the course for South African women.
Prof Lawack says: “Today we can boast that we have one of the most progressive constitutions in the world - one that protects the rights of women and children. Furthermore, safeguards have been put in place. For example, no one can be discriminated against based on sex, gender, religion, race or ethnicity. Yet, with such a progressive Constitution, women are still the poorest of the poor and are the most likely victims of gender-based and sexual violence.”
[LISTEN] Cherith Sanger on 100 Years of Women in Law
Every Friday for the next ten weeks, a new podcast episode will be available for download.
Click here to watch.