South African women have played a pivotal role as pioneers in contributing to the country’s freedom from oppression and discrimination due to apartheid that prevailed. This is why on 9 August 1956, women from all walks of life came together for the famous dompas laws demonstration in Pretoria. Their loud voices chanted and travelled through the hollow corridors of the Union buildings, “You have tempered with a woman, and you have struck a rock!”. The then Prime Minister JG Strijdom, later abandoned the policy laws on women. A triumphant moment in South African history; demonstrative of the powerful influence women in society hold as resilient agents who can unite against societal injustice.
This sentiment is shared across even in our world of work where we come across female lecturers, psychologists, journalists, lawyers, news anchors and many more but dear to our hearts and at the core of our work is our women paralegals. Our paralegals are situated across nine provinces where they deal with advising and attending to legal matters of under-reported communities. They guide community members on how to access justice from government departments, law firms, community based organizations and non-profit centers with cases pertaining to divorce, evictions, domestic violence, human trafficking, child grants and plenty other social justice issues.
Since the establishment of the Citizen Justice Network, our collaborations with advice offices around the country have extended by acquiring more offices and ensuring that women paralegals are at the leadership helm of these offices. We value the time they take to provide the communities with knowledge and give free legal assistance. We take our hats off and say “Ke basadi ba sebele- zimbokodo zoqobo!”
Nomaswazi has always had a dream of becoming a politician or at least a civil society activist but the older she grew she realized that there was a gap in the paralegal sector and right there and then she made herself available to the profession and began her career in 1996. Today, she works full time at the Ficksburg Advice Office with eight other women, including volunteers, and every Thursday at 19h10, she features on the Citizen Justice Network programme which airs on Setsoto FM. The office deals with many cases on statelessness and labor where she gets an opportunity to empower and educate her community about legal information that assist communities to have the agency to access justice. As a woman in a male dominated sector, she says she has encountered a lot of discrimination for being female, but what has sustained her burning passion is knowing that she is a role model to the community and to other young women watching her.
Sophia is a well-known paralegal at Kgatelopele Social Development Forum in Kuruman where she works with twenty-three other women, including volunteers. She features on Kurara FM every Wednesday at 16h00 where she also grooms young volunteers at her office to conduct some of the youth related topics concerning social justice. Growing up she always wanted to go to university but because of finances she, like some of our other paralegals, saw a gap within the sector and began to invest time in becoming the voice of the voiceless and a social justice fairy to those who had lost hope. A challenge she feels the sector needs to rectify is about putting women in leadership positions and entrusting them with the power to make decisions concerning the community. She says, “Women should no longer be bypassed. We are not secondary to men and we deserve to be in front.”
Thozama is based in the Eastern Cape at the Jersey Farm Advice and Information Centre where she shares the office with three other women. Back in 2002 when she began practicing as a paralegal, her aim was to make the community aware of its rights by freely advising them on legal matters and in that way she would have played her part in giving back to the community. She says what she enjoys most about her job is the joy people get after she resolves their cases, and living in a country with a high job scarcity rate, she is grateful to have something to do. She also tells us about the difficulty of running an advice center and that a lack of funding limits their scope of work within the rural areas of Umtata.
Sis’ Martha as we affectionately call her is based at the Dobsonville Human Rights Advice Office Soweto, where she provides leadership to four women at the advice office and to thousands of other women who are clients within her community. Her journey as a paralegal began in 2009 but was only officially qualified as a paralegal in 2013. During that time whilst pursuing her qualification her sole preoccupation was to help empower women. She tells us that most of the cases she deals with are on domestic violence, children custody, housing and divorce settlements with most of the cases reported by women. She has experienced challenges and beautiful moments in her journey, saying, “Even though there are many men in my field as well as those who are my clients do not believe in me, my job still remains fulfilling. I get to see change in one person even if many others have not yet received their justice.”
We close off Women’s month by saying: Wa thintha abafazi – wa thintha Iimbokodo!!