The South Africa Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ) hosted an Africa regional conference titled: “Beyond words, beyond 2015: embracing ). 2 the discourse of legal implementation to realize Planet 50-50” from 7 to 10 August 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa. This conference took place at a critical moment, recognising that 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the historical Beijing Declaration and platform for Action (4th World Conference on Women, 1995). The Planet 50-50 by 2030 initiative spearheaded by UN Women asks governments to make national commitments to address the challenges that are holding women and girls back from reaching their full potential. The conference was declared opened by Dr T Mailula of the University of South Africa at their beautiful campus. The Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, the Honourable Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng delivered a key-note address at the conference on the 8th of August.
The conference was attended by delegates from 10 different African countries and a total of 200 delegates were in attendance. Also in attendance was the representative of the IAWJ from Washington, Ms Winta Menghis, the Chief Justice of the Kingdom of Lesotho, Lady Justice Z J Majara, Ministers of the Republic of South Africa, Minister of Communications, Minister of Women and Children and Minister of Justice and Correctional Services. Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the representative of the UN Women, delivered a moving address encouraging all Chapters of the IAWJ to collaborate with the UN Women to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030.
Whilst acknowledging the gains made in terms of gender equality, speakers and participants collectively grappled with the challenges of gender transformation in their respective countries. A fundamental starting point iterated by all was that increasing the representation of women in the judiciary and legal profession was a necessary precondition for ensuring the equal rights and dignity of all citizens. A judiciary that is a reflection of the society it serves, would go a long way in eradicating all forms of discrimination that women face, including gender based violence, women’s access to land, economic disempowerment and trafficking to name but a few. Success stories shared, with Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria having women represented in the higher echelons of the judiciary are elatedly acknowledged and celebrated. However the realities of what women experience within institutions cannot be dismissed. The fact that the judiciary is a reflection of a broader patriarchal society means that when women do enter into the legal profession, their advancement is not guaranteed. That then begs the question, who is responsible for ensuring that competent women advance in the profession? Should the burden rest entirely on women? What is the role of the institutions themselves? There are no hard and fast rules. What becomes clear is that in order to move from “rhetoric conferences” to action (Beyond Words) is targeted and strategic action. The reality is that women in the profession do need to be organised and visible to ensure that the current inequalities and impediments to women’s advancement is profiled and addressed.
The burden should not rest entirely on women. Institutions themselves have 4 a duty to administer transformation. They have an onus to create necessary and appropriate interventions that would support women and ensure that they are able to give effect to the spirit of gender equality as enshrined in the Constitution and other international treaties. In addition to this, strong emphasis was placed on the need for effective mentorship and support initiatives. Many country participants shared some examples of what has worked in their contexts. Perhaps most importantly, whilst acknowledging and celebrating the increasing numbers of women in the judiciary, the conference created a space for connections across the countries and also for women in their different countries to find practical solutions to realize the vision of equity, equality in the world wherein women are truly emancipated. The conference resolutions will be circulated to member countries for ratification and adoption.