Students tackle gender inequity at Wits

PEER LEARNING: A group of learners and a Law professor sit around a table, discussing gender issues. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso

PEER LEARNING: A group of learners and a Law professor sit around a table, discussing gender issues. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso

The Students for Law and Social Justice Wits established a space to discuss gender-related issues. The initiative is called Ubulili. 

The Students for Law and Social Justice (SJSJ) have begun a gender campaign –

Ubulili is a Zulu word for ‘gender’, the campaign was started by SJSJ member, Cherise Clevely. According to Clevely, the university needed a gender initiative led by students. “I saw a gap in Wits for a forum that would tackle gender related issues,” she said.

Ubulili is a series of six in-depth discussions on gender-related issues, these discussions happen in a relaxed atmosphere where peer-learning is key. The members and the general public are each session. Clevely told Wits Vuvuzela that these discussions aim to “cut across lines that segregate people according to gender.”

The campaign kicked off last year but the first discussion was held this year, “Feminism” being the topic.

Tina Power, a participant told Wits Vuvuzela that the first seminar aimed to “bust the myth that men cannot be feminists.”

Before the seminar, members are sent reading material that forms the bases of the discussion in each seminar. This discussion is usually led by an expert in the Law department.

Professor Elsje Bonthuys from the Law School, told Vuvuzela that she was “thrilled” by the fact that the students took it upon themselves to start these discussions. “It is very interesting to hear what this generation thinks of these issues compared to mine.”

“We should infuse gender into other courses because gender influences our normal daily lives”, she said.

According to Clevely, it is important to raise awareness on campus about gender equality, especially because of the “misogynistic comments made by men’s residences recently”. She highlighted the importance of educating men, which is one of the objectives of Ubulili.

GENDER ACTIVIST: Professor Elsje Bonthuys shares her views on gender and sexuality with students at the Ubulili seminar. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso

GENDER ACTIVIST: Professor Elsje Bonthuys shares her views on gender and sexuality with students at the Ubulili seminar. Photo: Boipelo Boikhutso

Ubulili also plans to start a sanitary drive where sanitary wear will be donated to students in need. This will be done in August to commemorate women’s month. “It is sad that a lot of girls miss school when they are on their periods because they cannot afford sanitary pads,” stated Clevely; “Periods are what make us women, so it should not be a shame when a woman is on her period.”

New Law for Lawyers

Students feel that the poor should not be used as “guinea pigs” for law graduates.

Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ) held a debate between UJ and Wits students about the pro bono clause of the Legal Services Bill. The clause says graduates must do pro bono work for a year after graduating with law degrees.

Sbu Mdluli, a UJ student, said the issue of poor communities not being able to access legal services has been a thorny one and is a result of South Africa’s history. Mdluli said he was against poor people’s legal woes being used as a way for law students to practise their skills.

“We want proper justice for all from qualified lawyers who will not use the poor as guinea pigs.”

He also argued that being made to work without being paid would make law graduates less passionate about their work.

Erica Emdon from ProBono.Org said community service should be voluntary but the Bill made it compulsory. She, however, felt voluntary work would benefit the student and the organisation being served.

“Community service would expose the student to a side of life they have never experienced before. It also provides extra capacity that does not have to be paid for by the organisation.”

Emdon said supervision and mentorship would be essential during community service to alleviate fears of unqualified lawyers being “let loose” on poor people.

Wits final year law student, Anastasia Okai-Brown, was upbeat about the possibility of community service.

“Community service would be a foot in the door. I would meet people who know other people, and network,” she said.

According to News24, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe said the Bill is a landmark towards improving access to justice among the country’s poor communities.

The Wits Law Clinic, one of the biggest in the country, offers a compulsory practical course for the university’s final-year law students. It also provides opportunities for graduates to do their articles.

The two other universities with law clinics, University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Mandela Metropolitan University (MMU), also have compulsory practical courses as part of their law degrees.

If the Bill is enacted it would add more pro bono work for law graduates from these schools.

SLJS public relations officer Tinyiko Mbentse said they were not in support of the Legal Services Bill as a whole, but do support certain concepts within the Bill such as community work.  “We see community service as a way to train students and diffuse legal knowledge into society,” Mbentse said.

One problem with the Bill is the possibility of students not being paid for that year. Mbentse said SLJS is researching medical and engineering paid community work and could suggest it be used as a possible framework for legal community work and stipends.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 25th edition

The verdict is out

Wits will pioneer a new law journal this year, which will draw young law students into the culture of producing and publishing papers of academic quality.The Wits Student Law Journal for Southern Africa will launch its bi-annual publication in July, 2012. It is being run by a mostly undergraduate editorial team and is calling for articles from both undergraduate and postgraduate law students.

The journal will not only reflect the editorial team’s values around youth involvement, but also gender equality. The founding editors are young women and many other women are involved in the running of the journal.

“Our journal will focus on one’s merit and not one’s gender,” said journal proposal writers, Tariro Muzenda and Nyasha Gonzo.

The journal will be one of the official legal publications produced by law students in the 15 southern African states within the region, but it will be housed at Wits.

This new addition to the Law School is important for students because it will “help them become actively involved in legal scholarship [and] help exercise their freedom of opinion in the legal arena”, said Jeremiah Sepotokele, editorial team member and second year law student.

The publication will strengthen Wits’ existing prestige in the field of law – one of the most cited legal publications, the South African Human Rights Journal, is edited at Wits. Sepotokele said this “highlights the competitive edge that Wits [already] has”.

Inexperienced students can submit articles that meet the new journal’s editorial criteria, and will be guided by established academics.

“Through this we hope to see greater student participation in legal discourse, particularly through our online edition of the Journal, which will be updated frequently and include forums and chat facilities that will link students, academics and practitioners across the region.”

The editorial team plans to fund the project by selling the journal, and advertising space within it, to other law schools, law firms and interested parties. Funds have also been provided by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa and the Wits Law School.

Find the Journal’s group on Facebook or Twitter for more details on submission criteria and other information.

Published in Vuvuzela Print Edition, 13 April 2012