06/08/2012. Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana.

There should be as many, if not more, female judges as male judges, says Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana.

“We would like to see 50:50 gender parity in the judiciary,” she told a conference of women judges at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on Friday.

Given that women made up 52 percent of the SA population, it was “reasonable to demand” that their representation be increased, she said.

The draft Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill, which among other things intends making the private sector also subject to the 50:50 gender equity rule, would go before then cabinet for approval during the course of this financial year, Xingwana said.

Xingwana criticised male judges who were obstacles to the transformation of the judiciary because they believed women were not competent to decide cases.

“Quite often, when we talk about women representation on the bench, we are told that there are no women to appoint. This is an insult to all women in the legal profession. I believe that women are as competent as their male counterparts,” she said.

“The real reasons behind such assertions are the stereotypes that influence the perception of the world around us.”

She lamented “entrenched negative attitudes towards gender equality”.

Proportional representation of women in the judiciary would increase women’s access to justice, she said.

“Equal representation of women on the bench will provide an opportunity for women to bring the history of their complex lives and experiences, and thus introduce an array of contemporary critical perspectives in the understanding and application of the law to benefit all South Africans, especially women.”

Xingwana said some judges argued that their life experiences did not influence the decisions they took, but she begged to differ.

“It is natural that life experiences should influence how you perceive things, and therefore, as a member of the judiciary, it does influence your decision-making on the bench,” she said.

Xingwana said efforts to “shut down” debate on the racial and gender transformation of the judiciary should be resisted.

“We are concerned that open and frank debates about the judiciary are dismissed as ‘an attack on the judiciary’,” she said. “In a constitutional democracy such as ours, there should be no holy cows.”

“Difficult” and “uncomfortable” questions had to be asked, such as whether “black people and women” had “been brought in to merely change the colour of the bench while [it] still operates in the old way”.

“These are the fundamental questions that must be confronted and debated honestly and openly,” Xingwana said.

She urged women judicial officers to become more vocal about gender empowerment and equality. - Cape Argus