A brief report from Arjona Hoxha who completed a four week internship with the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town with the help of funding from the Overseas Placement Fund.
The Women’s Legal Centre, based in Cape Town, creates a safe space for women to come in and seek legal advice. The Women’s Legal Centre promote women’s rights and equality through education and training, advocacy, and strategic litigation. The WLC specialise in a range of areas such as relationship rights, violence against women, sexual health and reproductive rights, vulnerable workers’ rights, and land and tenant rights. The progress made in these areas are remarkable, and hopefully will encourage more litigation to recognise the rights and equalities of women in South Africa.
I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship at their office in Cape Town. The city itself was a melting pot of cultures and backgrounds, imbued with a long and tumultuous history. Working within this context created an entirely unique experience since women’s rights were sought whilst considering religion, culture and customs.
Part of my work included preparing a report for the Beijing +25 conference on Customary Marriages and how South African law has implemented a constitution that recognises customary marriages, thus offering women in customary marriages the legal protection that would normally be afforded to them from a civil marriage. This required me to interpret the constitution alongside different customs that were recognised in South Africa.
I was invited to attend a workshop on the sensitisation of sex work, run by a South Africa based non-profit organisation called S.W.E.A.T. The workshop allowed a variety of legal professionals to discuss sex work, the reasons people enter into it, how the law protects, or rather fails to protect, sex workers, and what legal reforms should take place. This workshop taught me about the training that police forces, lawyers and legislators must undertake to understand terminology and common misconceptions about sex workers.
One of the most insightful experiences was attending a historical walking tour through the streets of Cape Town hosted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation as part of their three-day Gender Indaba. This allowed us, as representatives, to enter into discussions about the history of injustice against women from early settlers, through slavery, to the modern day.
During my internship I helped run a one-day workshop in the township of Gugulethu for women about the rights women have in marriage in South Africa. This took place in the form of a presentation with questions and an active discussion from the women who attended. The discussion involved divorce rights, customary marriages, religious marriages, property in marriage and custody of children, amongst other considerations. Many of the women who joined the workshop were surprised at the rights and legal remedies available to them, which was a great indication of how the WLC advanced women’s rights through education and workshops.
These were but a few examples of the engaging and inspiring work I did with the Women’s Legal Centre. This is not exhaustive, but is an indication of the experience I undertook, and will remember when pursuing advocacy for the protection of human rights.