South Africa: ICJ Commissioner Justice Yvonne Mokgoro delivers keynote address on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Today, ICJ Commissioner and former Constitutional Court Justice Justice Yvonne Mokgoro delivered the Keynote Address on Women’s Socio-Economic Rights at an event organized by ICJ and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The event, which marked Women’s Month in South Africa, was aimed at promoting the contributions of women human rights defenders and public interest lawyers in advancing women’s socio-economic rights in South Africa.

 Justice Mokgoro, the first black women Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, called on human rights defenders, lawyers and judges to recommit to fighting the feminization of poverty in South Africa.

“The indignities suffered by women exposed to poverty in our country are graphic, trauma-inducing and all encompassing. The dire need of women in our patriarchal society must be addressed,” she said.

With reference to the South African Constitution, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Justice Mokgoro implored judges and lawyers in particular to “engender” the full range socio-economic rights by defining their content in a manner which takes into account the impact of human rights violations on women and girls.

The event featured a panel discussion , which included remarks by Tumelo Matlwa and Amelia Rawhani-Mosalakae, lawyers at CALS, who identified who a range of legal provisions and banking practices relating to matrimonial property have a disproportionate impact on women’s rights to property.

The presentation concluded that “poverty is a form of economic violence that has a disproportionate effect on women”.

Fatima Shabodien, Strategy Director at Raith Foundation, focused her presentation on sexual harassment faced predominantly by women in the public interest law sector in South Africa.

Quoting from Indian author Arundathi Roy, Shabodien observed that “there is no such thing as the voiceless only the deliberately silenced”.

Women, she added, “have not been silent in this sector they have been deliberately silenced”. She urged human rights defenders and public interest lawyers to take allegations of sexual harassment seriously.

Nonhle Mbuthuma, a community activist from the Amadiba Crisisis Committee described the difficulties of being a women human rights defender: “I am a human rights activist and it is a difficult task. You are called a lot of names for challenging the government.

All the names don’t scare me – my mother gave me only one name”, she said. Referring to a judgment of the High Court affirming her community’s right to free, prior and informed consent before the commencement of a mining development, she concluded: “I am very proud of the Constitution and judges who said we have the right to give consent to [whether] mining [can take place]. Not the government or big companies. The people.”

She emphasized that women were, and continue to be, at the forefront of the struggle for access to land in South Africa.

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