Media Statement: Womxn’s Day
LETS NOT FORGET : RECOGNISING THE RESILIENCE & STRENGTH OF OUR WOMEN
09 August 2019
The Women’s Legal Centre wishes all womxn a happy Womxn’s Day!
Women were only allowed to join the legal profession in South Africa in 1923, following the enactment of the Women’s Legal Practitioners Act of 1923. The first black women lawyer, Desiree Finca, was admitted as an attorney in 1967, and she paved the way for young black womxn to enter the profession. We pay tribute to womxn lawyers like Desiree Finca, Cissy Gool, Victoria Mxenge, Phyllis Naidoo, and others, who all practiced under the very dark days of apartheid under huge personal costs to their lives and freedom. Victoria Mxenge, a human rights lawyer and activist, was assassinated by apartheid security police for her human rights work.
Remembering the spirit of these womxm, Womxn’s Day this year is particularly special to the Women’s Legal Centre, as this year marks 20 years since the inception of the Centre. The Centre was established in 1999 to advance womxn’s rights in South Africa, and as an African feminist legal centre, our work remains essential in the struggle for equality and justice for womxn.
Womxn’s Day is celebrated to honour the resilience and strength of womxn, such as those mentioned above. It commemorates the Womxn’s March on 09 August 1956 where 20 000 womxn marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. They marched in protest of the carrying of pass books and against legislation by the apartheid government which aimed to control the movement of black womxn in urban areas. We honour those brave womxn who continue to be role models for us today. We also remember the womxn who lost their lives during apartheid in the struggle for the freedom of our people.
As we celebrate the sheer strength and resilience of womxn in South Africa, we do so with bitter sweetness amid the backdrop of high rates of femicide, sexual and domestic violence against womxn, sexual harassment, a failure to recognize some womxn’s marriages, a denial of rights to sex workers, and so much more. We acknowledge that the strength of womxn is often a result and a means of survival from the realities which they endure. We acknowledge that the black, working class womxn is at the coalface of poverty and that her struggles are largely unrecognized by the State.
Despite these struggles, we celebrate womxn standing together. We celebrate womxn surviving. We celebrate the womxn in our sector who have shown a great amount of vigour, tenacity and fortitude in their work while tackling patriarchy, and pushing for gender equality and transformation. Despite the important progression toward formal inclusion, the realization of substantive gender parity in the legal sector has been and remains an enduring and arduous task. Discriminatory practices like sexual harassment, gender pay gap, gender bias and patriarchal workplace structures are a major impediment to gender equality in the legal profession.
However, we celebrate our victories. With the advent of our democracy, we have seen many women entering the profession and taking judicial office in the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Appeal, and the High Courts for the first time. We pay tribute to women lawyers like Yvonne Mokgora, Kate O Reagon, Mandisa Maya, Lucy Mailulu, Navi Pillay, Leona Theron and more.
We celebrate the womxn who we advise and represent, the womxn who, with the odds of an unjust system stacked against them, continue to endure. As we celebrate the strengths of being a womxn today, let us also remember that there is much to be achieved. We demand that the State recognize our constitutional rights and as true feminists, we ask womxn to stand together unified in the struggle against patriarchy and our demands for equality.
Happy Womxn’s Day.
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