ABOUT THE WOMEN’S LEGAL CENTRE
The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) is a non-profit law centre that seeks to achieve equality for women, particularly black women through impact based litigation, the provision of free legal advice, legal support to advocacy campaigns run by other organizations (which fall within the Center’s objectives) and training that ensures people know and understand the impact of judgements of the courts on the subject of women’s rights.
The WLC also provides legal advice to the other non-governmental women’s organizations nationally and in Africa.
The Center has won several precedent setting cases that have improved women’s access to justice in South Africa
The WLC is staffed by attorneys, candidate attorneys, paralegals and a legal adviser who specialize in gender law and have extensive litigation experience. The WLC is based in Cape Town, with an office in Johannesburg, and a satellite office in Khayelitsha.
What we do
The Centre has a vision of women in South Africa being free from violence, empowered to ensure their own reproductive and health rights, free to own their own share of property, having a safe place to stay and empowered to work in a safe and equitable environment.
The WLC seeks to achieve its long-term objectives through litigation and related advocacy for law reform. The Centre has identified five strategic areas in which to focus its activities:
- Fair access to resources: We will take up cases that ensure that women receive a fair share of the assets on the dissolution of partnerships, whether by death or separation. This involves ensuring that all partnerships are legally recognised, irrespective of religion and custom.
- Freedom from violence: We will take up cases that improve the access of women and girl children to State protection from gender based violence, particularly rape and domestic violence and increase the protection for girl children from abuse in schools.
- A safe place to stay: We will take up cases that extend tenure to women in their own right, and prevent loss of tenure on the dissolution of relationships.
- Access to work: We will take up cases that extend employment protection to vulnerable groups, develop the law on sexual harassment in relation to vulnerable workers, and ensure equal opportunities in the workplace.
- Being well: We will continue to defend legal challenges to a woman’s right to make choices relative to her own reproductive health, and to litigate to ensure that women have access to reproductive health care. We will take on cases related to women’s access to health care and the interface between HIV/AIDS and our other strategic focus areas.
In order to empower women through knowledge of their rights, the WLC offers free legal advice to them. Wherever possible they are assisted by the Centre or referred to an appropriate institution, NGO or court for assistance. The bulk of the queries we receive involve the dissolution of partnerships, gender based violence and maintenance.
In the long term, we hope to contribute to building capacity in the sector so that it is more effective in advocating for the equality of women. Our advocacy and training work focuses on providing support to other organisations and groups of organisations which advocate the advancement of women’s rights in the WLC’s focus areas. We assist these organisations by providing legal opinions; drafting and making submissions to parliament; presenting workshops and drafting legislation, regulations and policies. We provide training to ensure the communication and implementation of gains won in court, and as an activity to recover costs.
Finally, working with a view to the transformation of the profession and broader society, we train candidate attorneys to ensure the transformation of the profession, and seek to make submissions on the gender record of acting judges before they are appointed. We also provide information, training and capacity building services on a regional level.
The Work Of The Women’s Legal Centre: Past, Present And Future
The WLC has successfully represented clients or assisted the courts as a friend of the court (by making submissions in relation to women’s rights) in the following cases:
- challenging the City of Cape Town Housing policy that women in Muslim marriages are not registered as co-owners of council houses (Solarie);
- challenging the discriminatory provisions of laws relating to intestate succession, thus enabling women married in terms of monogamous Islamic marriages (Daniels), polygynous Islamic marriages (Gabie-Hassam) and Hindu marriages (Govender) to inherit from their spouses;
- challenging the interpretation of an “employee” in the Labour Relations Act which prevented sex workers from obtaining the necessary labour protections in terms of the labour legislation and the Constitution (Kylie case);
- challenging the provisions of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act that discriminated unfairly between women married before and after the promulgation of that Act, thus extending the remedies available to women married before the Act (Gumede);
- challenging the primogeniture rules of the customary law of succession thus enabling girls to inherit from their fathers in terms of customary law for the first time (Bhe case);
- challenging the provisions that prevented women married in community of property from claiming damages when injured by their spouses in motor vehicle accidents (Van der Mewe );
- challenging the provisions in the law of prescription which prevented survivors of child sexual abuse from claiming damages (Van Zijl), and challenging the prescription of sexual offences (Levenstein)
- in the matter of Levenstein, an application was made to the Constitutional Court in June 2017 for confirmation of the High Court judgement which declared s 18 of the Criminal Procedure Act unconstitutional (prescription of sexual offences, other than rape, after 20 years). WLC has been cited as a respondent. While WLC supports the application of confirmation, we submitted our application to adduce further evidence in July 2017 to substantiate our argument that the declaration should include all sexual offences, and should apply irrespective if the sexual offence is perpetrated against an adult or child.
- developing the concept of sexual harassment as discrimination by case law (Ntsabo) and related advocacy, resulting in stricter obligations on employers to ensure that the workplace is free from discrimination in the form of sexual harassment;
- developing the State’s duty of care in giving effect to women’s rights to be free from violence (K case) and developing the law to take into account domestic violence as a circumstance for reducing the minimum sentences of women who murder their abusive husbands (Fereira);
- defending legal challenges to the right to reproductive health care;
- making submissions on the gendered nature of sexual violence where the Constitutional Court found that existing provisions for the protection of child witnesses in sexual offences cases were not being adequately utilised and ordered the State to furnish a report on the implementation of existing witness protection measures to the Court (Phaswane).
- WLC wins in NM vs AR Matter. The WLC successfully won an interdict application in a traditional marriages case where the husband sold the marital home without consent of the parties.
- developing the common law so that a widow of a Muslim marriage can claim for damages for the loss of support following the unlawful death of her husband (Amod);
- in the Harneker matter the Western Cape High Court declared section 2 (1) ( c) of the Wills Act unconstitutional as it does not recognise the equality rights of spouses married in terms of Muslim rites.
- The Muslim Personal class action was launched to develop and extend the legal remedies available to women in civil and customary marriages to women married according to Muslim rites. We intend on declaring the state’s failure to pass legislation recognizing Muslim marriages to be unconstitutional.
- Matdozi Ramuhovhi vs President of South Africa and Others (Thoyando High Court Judgment handed down on 1 August 2016) The WLC was admitted as a friend of the court in this matter which dealt with the constitutionality the provisions of section 7(1) of the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act 120 of 1998 which regulates the proprietary consequences of polygamous marriages entered into before the commencement of the Recognition Act, being 15 November 2000. The Matter has been heard by the Constitutional Court and is awaiting confirmation.
In addition, the WLC has identified a further need to address the levels of indirect discrimination against women in society. While many women may enjoy some form of formal equality, substantive equality is not a reality. The WLC is targeting socioeconomic rights of women as an important area for advancement by litigation and advocacy, and will challenge the more invidious forms of indirect discrimination that act to prevent women from achieving real equality.
Our Mission and Vision
Develop law, policy, legal jurisprudence based on a human rights framework and paradigm.
Drive a feminist agenda that appreciate the impact gender issues have on women within different classes, race, sexual orientation, identity and disability.
Empower women to access their rights within their home, communities and society.
Establish a cadre of black feminist lawyers within South Africa and ensure gender transformation of the legal profession.
Statement Of Purpose
The Women’s Legal Centre is an African feminist legal centre that advances women’s rights and equality through strategic litigation, advocacy and partnerships. We aim to defend and protect the rights of vulnerable and marginalised women, in particular black women, and to promote their access to justice and equitable resources. We seek to advance women’s freedom from violence, substantive equality, and agency in all aspects of their lives - at home, at work, in the community, and within society at large.
Trustees, Patrons and Donors
Nasreen Rajab Budlender (Chairperson)
Kholeka Zama (Treasurer)
Michelle Huber (Trustee)
Nicole Fritz (Trustee)
Penny Perenzee (Trustee)