At the University of Pretoria there is a student society ‘UP Women in Law’ which was established to provide a voice to law students otherwise marginalised in a historically male dominated, and white dominated, profession. At their inaugural meeting I was asked to set the tone for the society and the work they would do for the rest of the year. I had been at the university for quite some time, seven years and counting, and so as a sort of ‘academic ancestor’ they asked me what I wish I knew as a young woman and student. My answer involved two key points.
First, I wish I knew of more great women. My time at university was inundated with the words and works of great men. Phenomenal philosophers, advocates, and judges – none of whom looked like me, or had the particular experience of being a woman in the world. Women are violated, oppressed, exploited in every conceivable way, and still not given access to or power within the particular spaces needed to change their lived realities. I started to realise that the path to liberation is crowded, especially after centuries of oppression and domination which have come to mould the very disciplines we study, and the very spaces we occupy. I want each young woman to know of the great women in her fields of interest, to know of women who inspire and captivate the minds of people around the world. This is still not a reality. Women still struggle to access education, still struggle to enter the workplace, and in all cases still face issues of inequality based on gender and sex. This brings me to the second thing I wish I knew.
Secondly, I wish I knew when I started my time at university, that to be a woman studying law means to be part of a resistance movement. Firstly, we must resist the voices that dictate how society runs and decide who is allowed to participate. Secondly, we must resist the urge to participate in systems built on injustice and oppression. This brings me to the necessity of student movements aimed at consciousness-raising and lending a voice to the historically marginalised – such as UP Women in Law. There are two meanings I extrapolate from our society’s name – the first that we are women, actively engaged in the legal fraternity (and yes, it is a fraternity). The second meaning comes from the words ‘in law’. If you have a mother-in-law, a sister-in-law, it means that you are bound by an obligation to one another. A legal obligation, but an obligation nonetheless. The obligation which binds us, women-in-law, is this obligation to resist.
Ultimately, I wanted to inspire the young women present at that first Women in Law meeting to continue their work in the legal profession as hard as it may become. The issues young women face are multiple and intersectional. Be it access to equal education; access to basic health and sanitation; reproductive rights; the rights to dignity and freedom, and more… young women need other young women to be at the forefront of innovative and inspiring work. Those of us in the position to be educated, to lead the vanguard, owe it to other women to know of great women.
So, what do you think? Do you have something to say? You can contribute to the Human Writes blog by becoming one of our young Human Writers here.
Zenia Pero, a law graduate from the University of Pretoria, is currently studying for her LLM in Socio-economic rights. She is an advocate for scholarly activism, and has worked with activists and academics alike to broaden her knowledge and perspectives on social justice and the law. To this end she hopes to inspire other young law students to take up the cause of scholarly activism to truly change the world as we know it. When she’s not out changing the world, she spends her time unwinding with a nice cup of tea, and rescuing a cat or two (she has five).
**This article was contributed by a guest blogger. This blog entry does not necessarily represent the position or opinion of Amnesty International South Africa.