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A woman from Bo Kaap is passionate about empowering women

Seehaam Samaai is the director of the Legal Aid Clinic and Women’s Legal Centre at the University of the Western Cape.

Seehaam Samaai is the director of the Legal Aid Clinic and Women’s Legal Centre at the University of the Western Cape.

Published Aug 7, 2021

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Cape Town - Growing up in Bo Kaap and seeing how women were treated by the law was the driving force behind Seehaam Samaai getting into the profession.

Samaai now works as the director of the Legal Aid Clinic and Women's Legal Centre at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

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She studied for a BProc degree and an LLM degree in constitutional litigation at the UWC.

“At a young age I saw how law disempowered those around me and how women in particular were oppressed by the justice system,” she said.

She said women had no access to justice upon the dissolution of their marriages or death of their spouses as they were married only in terms of Muslim rites, and had no rights to their properties.

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She said many women in her community had no choice but to accept their plight due to the economic inequities.

“I saw how the high cost of legal representation stopped poor working-class communities from accessing justice and how the courts were used as a tool of oppression,” said Samaai.

She became involved in civic politics at a young age after seeing how communities could resist oppressive laws and policies through uniform civic and political actions.

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She then realised how education empowered people on various levels and how it provided women with better choices.

“My parents strongly believed in education and I wanted to use the law to empower poor working-class communities and women in particular to access their rights. I wanted to use the law as a vehicle for social change and to sensitise the law to the realities of women in my community and our townships,” she said.

This background guided her to complete her articles at the Legal Resources Centre and work for human rights as an attorney in their farmworker project.

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She subsequently became a lecturer at the UWC where she used lectures to instil in law students a sense of social justice through practical training.

She comes from a working-class background where her parents worked tirelessly for their family. Her father was a bricklayer and a builder and her mother worked as an administrative assistant.

She said she was humbled by her position because she was able to serve vulnerable and marginalised women and empower them to access their rights.

Samaai said the Women’s Legal Centre was an African legal centre which advanced the rights of women through strategic litigation, advocacy and training, and was the only one of its kind in the country.

“I want to celebrate the resilience of South African women, who have survived the odds of an unjust system stacked against them, and which they continue to endure. I ask that we celebrate each other and hold each others’ struggles as true feminists. I ask women to stand together, and continue to support one another, in the true feminist manner. Let us praise the action of the women,” said Samaai.

She urged young women not to give up, but to be bold, unapologetic and deal with themselves as individuals worthy of respect, and make everyone else deal with them the same way.

She said for Women’s Month, it should be remembered that “empowered women empower”.

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