Some of the women Justices, Judges, and Magistrates of the Judiciary of Seychelles examine the subject of ‘women delivering justice’. What is it like to practice law as a woman, and is there equity? They also share their observations, and message for all women on this important day.
Justice of Court of Appeal Dr Mathilda Twomey
I had hoped that the shattering of the glass ceiling when I was the first woman judge appointed in 2011 would have resulted in greater respect for the role of women in the practice of law in Seychelles. Sadly, many women lawyers have reported that shards from that glass ceiling have been used to impale and wound them as they try to engage in this noble profession. The welcome and acceptance of the valid and necessary role of women in law is oftentimes just a veneer under which lurks a male orientated environment replete with lewd jokes, vulgar comments, and pervasive displays of male supremacy. A judge wants a chat “man to man.” A lawyer challenges a woman about being in court instead of looking after her children at home. Many women lawyers have confided to me that they are scared to take certain cases because of the fallout which their male counterparts never experience. Some women lawyers have shared stories with me of being followed in their car and threatened when they have taken particularly sensitive cases.
Yet female students of law and female legal practitioners in these islands today match their male counterparts in numbers. I am convinced more than ever that gender sensitivity training must be mandatory if anything is going to change. But until this happens we must stand together and call out such behavior each time it occurs. I call on women to join the ranks of the bar and bench to create the tipping point necessary for the transformation of our legal community. We are called especially to be the drivers of change and the defenders of human rights in Seychelles, Africa and the world and I know that together we can rise to the challenge.
This year’s theme “Chose to Challenge” is close to my heart and I will push myself to embrace it and live it. I call on all women to do so as well. When we are courageous enough to fight patriarchy, stand up and challenge assumptions and stereotypes, the glass ceilings we shatter and the obstacles we overcome enable our daughters to inherit a better world than ours. It allows them to live a full life and realise their aspirations.
I dream for them a world that is free of gender bias, discrimination, and ignominy. I dream for them a world where their gender does not define what they are capable of. I dream for them a world where they are respected as equals and not subjected to harassment and abuse and relegated to subordinate positions. Above all, I dream for them, and this is the challenge for me and you sisters, where every woman can be brave enough to call out male hypocrisy about our sexuality, fertility and identity.
And in the words of Lil Kim and Christina Aguilera “This is for my girls all around the world, Who have come across a man that don’t respect your worth, Thinkin’ all women should be seen and not heard, So what do we do girls, shout out loud, Lettin ’em know we’re gonna stand our ground, So lift your hands high and wave ’em proud, Take a deep breath and say it loud, Never can, never will, Can’t hold us down!”
Supreme Court Judge Samia Andre
It goes without saying that Seychelles is part of globalization and it has been seen over the past few years that rights of women have been at the forefront and women of Seychelles have realized to a great extent their purpose in society and this in all fields of life.
The field of law has not been an exception and we have seen a huge increase in the number of women choosing to work within the legal system either as court officers and or choosing to practice law as barristers, solicitors, notaries and researchers and legal advisors in courts. This is not to say that Seychelles has reached the apex of its realization of women rights /emancipation in the legal field. There are so many factors to be surpassed in order to achieve the ideal status of women rights in this field.
Prejudices exist in our culture; sacrifices that the job entails and the mind-set of many of our leaders and heads of different organizations and departments need to change and refocus towards women empowerment and being less patriarchal. Patriarchal structures in all fields of work and life should be avoided, to prevent the lowering of standards within society or bypass the legitimate opportunities available to women. There is an urgent need to enhance participation of women where it is justified.
Women by themselves and as a group should also reunite and propagate their values and virtues by choosing the legal field as a career for their contribution is as equally important as those of men. The presence of women as judges not only adds diversity in the system but also increases the ‘entente’ between men and women, ensuring that justice is not only done but seen to be done, hence the valuable contribution they can bring to the dispensation of justice. My wish in that light as a Judge would be to encourage those women who feel “the call’ to join the legal profession for it is a journey not only to gain status but in helping society at large.
My message for all women of Seychelles on this auspicious occasion, is simply to realize that as women we are not a team because we work together. We are a team because we respect, trust, and care for each other. This wholesome team spirit is the crux of women empowerment, hence let us propagate and live it wholesomely for the betterment of all.
Magistrate Natasha Burian
We must continue to actively encourage young women to consider a career in the legal profession. An examination of the list of licensed attorneys will reflect that there is a poor representation of women at the Bar. However, the trend does appear to be changing with the majority of the newly qualified lawyers being female. In order to create more equity and remove any barriers that women may perceive to exist, I am of the opinion that an exercise must be undertaken to educate and remove the gender bias unconscious or otherwise within the Bar, Bench and the public in general. There should be no differentiation in treatment between male and female professionals and that the gender of the individual is irrelevant but what is of real importance is their ability and skill to perform the job at hand. Women need to be encouraged to strive for positions of influence and as Seychelles strives to eliminate gender bias, this should be reflected across all arms of Government. There has been positive advancement in this regard within the Judiciary. However, currently, the male to female ratio on the Supreme Court Bench is 5:3, showing that there remains an imbalance of female representation. As well as improving the quality of our law by bringing a wider range of experience to judicial reasoning, a more diverse bench would improve the public perception of it and therefore we must continue to encourage women to pursue a career at the Bench.
I would like to encourage future generations of graduates, who aspire to become judges, not to let their aspirations become curtailed but to always remember that their insecurities are the only barrier to their professional development. Always be proud of who you are and what you have achieved.
Magistrate Brigitte Confait
I am proud to say that to date, women legal practioners have made immense contribution to our jurisprudence in the Seychelles both from the bar and from the bench, from a history where the legal profession was predominantly men prior to the 1980’s.
Moreover, the contribution of women practioners is called for in some criminal cases. This is more specifically in sexual related offences/cases of assault or negligence of a child; where victims are vulnerable or minors, and based on their gender tend to feel more at ease with female counsels than male.
Today more than half of legal practioners in the Seychelles are women. Two out of the five Justices of the Court of Appeal; three out of the seven Supreme Court Judges and three out of the six Magistrates are women.
Gender is no longer a barrier to education (a right enshrined under our Constitution) or work in the legal profession in the Seychelles. In 2005, Judge Laura Pillay was appointed as the first female Magistrate in Seychelles. In April 2011 the Seychelles saw the appointment of Justice Mathilda Twomey as its first female Supreme Court Judge in its history, its first women Justice of Court of Appeal in March 2011 and in 2015, as its first female Chief Justice. Justice Twomey has inspired me personally through her Judgments as a young female State Counsel when appearing before the Court of Appeal in 2014 after my being called to the Seychelles the bar as Attorney-at-Law.
One has a good understanding of her fundamental human rights enshrined under Chapter III of our Constitution by having a deeper knowledge of the law. All laws are accessible and made available online on websites such as the www.seylii.org and www.judiciary.sc. I therefore encourage all women to use these sites to educate themselves.
Delivering justice can be achieved though further education in the legal field. The Seychelles Institute of Distance and Open learning (SIDOL) (ex-ALDEC) and the University of Seychelles provide courses in law. Similarly, I would encourage young women to enroll and attempt these available courses.
Article 27 of our Constitution provides for equal protection of the Law to all irrespective of gender. As mentioned above, legal education is available to all. The contribution of women practioners towards delivering justice should inspire young women to seize the opportunity and join the legal profession.
Be encouraged. Determination and perseverance through hard work will allow you to achieve your aim.