In spite of South Africa's advanced Constitution, gender inequalities still characterise the country's judiciary, says legal researcher Tabeth Masengu, of the Democratic Governance & Rights Unit (DGRU).
An applied research unit with the public law department, the DGRU was launched in 2007 to play a strategic role in establishing democracy and human rights in Southern Africa.
Its research informs advocacy initiatives, both in the unit and with partners and civil society organisations.
Thin on the ground Much of Masengu's work addresses gender disparity. She pays particular attention to the scarcity of women judges and the challenges women face in their aspirations to become judges – and in the legal profession generally.
A mere 33% of judges in the Superior Courts (High Courts, Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court) are women. In the Supreme Court of Appeal, only one-third of the justices are women and in the history of the Constitutional Court there have never been more than three women judges sitting in it.
And although the proportion of women in the magistracy is 40%, it's still a dismal statistic, adds Masengu. "This affects the legitimacy of our judiciary, and gender equality as a whole."
Masengu's secondary area of work is constitutionalism and women's rights.
Here she's involved with an African working group that's publishing a book, Women and Constitutions, in seven different countries.
Looking ahead, in 2017 the DGRU will establish a teaching course, part of the new Law & Society LLM developed by the Centre for Law and Society.
Story by Helen Swingler
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