The Women’s Legal Centre welcomes the approach taken by the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana quoted in the Weekend Argus as saying that she opposed 'in its entirety' the Traditional Courts Bill. Xingwana told Parliament women were disappointed at not being considered when the Bill was drafted.
The proposed introduction of the Traditional Courts Bill by parliament will ultimately result in the creation of second class citizens - mostly impoverished women - who will be limited to the previous homelands.
“Women have raised serious concerns regarding this Bill, and questioned its constitutionality,” she said. “Our interest is to ensure that this Bill does not reverse the gains that women have made towards empowerment and gender equality in the past 20 years.”
“The Minister is to be commended for speaking up for women in rural areas who have not been consulted on this Bill and who are bound to be negatively affected by it,” said Jennifer Williams, Director of the Women’s Legal Centre.
The Bill, if passed into law, will make senior traditional leaders judges in traditional courts in their area. They will have jurisdiction over everyone in their geographical area (delineated according to apartheid homelands) for certain civil and criminal matters. The concern raised by many diverse women is that there are few female senior traditional leaders (despite quotas) and that woman are in some cases and at some instances not allowed to appear in these courts in terms of custom.
“The Traditional Courts Bill contravenes our regional obligations in relation to women’s access to justice, women should be represented equally in the body of the judiciary and be able to represent themselves effectively in courts.”
Williams commented that; “we are pleased to see the Ministry of Women, Children and Persons with Disabilities and the Commission on Gender Equality reject this Bill. We hope that these strong sentiments, together with the groundswell of objection to the Bill, will be taken seriously by lawmakers.”
The Bill is infected with the racist divisions of the past, and riddled with contradictions, and questions that cannot be resolved. This is not a genuine attempt at reconciling customary law with the constitution, but a shoddy piece of politicking, trying to score points with traditional leaders, while knowing that this law will fail constitutional muster. It neither answers the needs of people who choose to live under customary law, or the choices of those who do not.
Women’s Legal Centre
078 803 3110