Johannesburg - The judiciary is an institution fraught with sexism. Women keen to become judges are constantly degraded and are not given the same respect as their male counterparts.
“There’s a lot of sexism. If you are a woman you have to go on a course to become a judge but a man can simply serve as an acting judge and apply for the job,” Judge Kathy Satchwell told a group of students at the Wits School of Law on Thursday.
“Men have thought of this as a marvellous thing. They think this is helping women become judges. They are incredibly proud of their expensive courses,” Judge Satchwell said.
“Management of the judiciary is sexist. If a man has been an attorney for 18 years and a woman for 18 years, a woman is sent for this course and a man simply applies for the job. I think those people who thought there should be courses for women maybe haven’t worked with lots of women,” she said.
Judge Satchwell left the students in stitches when she spoke of her 16-year battle to challenge the “whites-only lavatories” that were built to cater only for men in the Johannesburg High Court.
“I have been saying for 16 years ‘why do we have a urinal when we now have women’, and I ask ‘why do we still have the whites-only lavatories’? The other day a colleague called to say ‘Kathy, can I please have your hand?’ I said in marriage?’
“They said ‘no, just come with me, we have renovations in our building’, and they took me to the lavatory and there are no urinals,” she said.
The judge, who was once grilled about whether her homosexuality would prevent “God-fearing South Africans” from identifying with her when she was interviewed for a Constitutional Court post in 2009, said, however, that the “sexist” mentality had “more to do with where they [decision makers] come from”.
“I come from a world where women are treated differently.
“When Kathy applied, they asked if she had a family. I chose to be married. I didn’t choose not to have children. I tried and I couldn’t,” she said.
While mindsets have changed from an era where women were allocated cases relating only to children and divorces because “we have a particular empathy, there’s more that [still] needs to be done to change the justice system.”
Judge Satchwell, a founding member of the Black Sash in Grahamstown, advised the legal eagles in the making to balance their lives.
The judge said there was room for them to carve a niche for themselves.
“You’ve got one life, so take care of that. Don’t work so hard that when you are 70 you will be saying ‘I wish I had gone to the Kruger [National Park], I wish I had learnt how to knit’.
“Be passionate and enjoy what you do. You don’t wanna sit on your deathbed thinking ‘was that all there was to it?,” she said.