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.
- AFRICAN FEMINIST APPROACH: The legal system is patriarchal in both structure and implementation, and what may look gender neutral on paper often results in failed substantive equality which disproportionately affects women. The law does not take gender imbalances of power into account. Women face unique challenges in accessing the law and by implication, justice is often unattainable. In adopting an African feminist approach, we recognize these imbalances and how they make women vulnerable in the broader legal system. Our approach is to dismantle patriarchal structures, laws, jurisprudence, and attitudes which manifest in these power imbalances. We aim to empower women to determine their own place in society. We are unapologetic in our approach which is biased to exclusively support women and putting them at the forefront of our work.
- INTERSECTIONAL: Intersectionality is a sociological theory describing multiple threats of discrimination occurring when an individual’s identities overlap with a number of minority classes — such as race, gender, religion, age, ethnicity, health and other characteristics (Care, 2017). We recognise that women are not a homogenous group, and that we are individuals who all experience discrimination in different ways based on our identities and experiences. Existing legal and policy mechanisms are often stacked against people with a multiple minority identity. We have therefore adopted an intersectional approach to all our work, including litigation.
- HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE RIGHTS-BASED APPROACH: Universal principles of human rights are the broad foundation from which we seek to realise women’s rights to equality. The South African Bill of Rights in the Constitution is a comprehensive and progressive set of rights afforded to its citizens. The rights‐based approach aims to ensure that women are afforded their rights in their lived realities, starting from the point of being entitled to these rights. We thus aim to achieve substantive equality which builds on formal equality.
- EMPOWERMENT: Through investment in women, we work collaboratively with partners in order to create and expand spaces for women to exercise their agency and vindicate their rights. Our approach is to empower women who seek our help by giving them the tools and knowledge to make their own choices in addressing their problems. From basic consultations through to strategic litigation, it is important to always give the women that we represent their own agency and voice. We thus aim to empower and amplify women’s voices.
The WLC uses strategic litigation as a method to advance women's rights in our five programmes. Strategic litigation is litigation with a broader purpose of advancing an agenda which goes beyond a single case. It is targeted at creating broader systemic changes for a large group of women. It is thus a key strategy to developing feminist jurisprudence through precedent setting cases. The WLC litigates in its own name, in the public interest (such as on behalf of civil society organizations), on behalf of clients, or as a friend of the court (amicus curiae). Strategic litigation is often the best tool to advance a specific right or to challenge a discriminatory law or policy.
- Legal Advice and Support: The WLC assist women who would not ordinarily have access to legal services. We have a regular and free service for consultations where women can come into our offices or call us to receive free legal advice. We also coordinate two free legal advice clinics in Khayelitsha and at the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court. If we are unable to assist women, we refer them to the relevant government department, NGO, law centre or court. Through direct legal services, we are able to identify gaps in laws, systemic failures and challenges with implementation which informs our strategic litigation.
- Advocacy: By collaborating with other organizations that work directly with communities, and providing legal support within civil society networks, we advocate for the state and the private sector to uphold their responsibilities in terms of the law and women’s rights. We provide support to women’s rights organisations and the broader feminist movement with the aim of strengthening women’s voices and advancing women’s rights. Our work includes written and oral submissions to the South African parliament, regional and international human rights treaty bodies, and other relevant bodies. We take part in a variety of conferences, workshops, and discussions to advance our work. Lastly, we carry out media advocacy, spreading our message through social and mainstream media.
- Education and Training: The WLC has committed to training the next generation of black women lawyers and has therefore taken candidate attorneys into service. We also take on interns in the spirit of empowering and training women who are interested in working in the feminist legal space. Furthermore, we conduct workshops and present on panels where we speak on the work being done at WLC, and educate women on rights‐based issues.
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.