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.