International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on the 8th of March every year around the world. It is a focal point in the movement for women's rights. At Afriwise, we celebrated this year’s IWD by asking our team and our expert legal contributors to answer some questions related to the law and gender equality.
Read what they had to say below:
Sharon Sakuwaha, Partner, Corpus Legal Practitioners, Zambia - Sharon is head of Banking and M&A for Corpus and specialises in mergers and acquisitions, equity markets and private equity work.
Afriwise asked: "Are there any specific laws in your country you think could be improved to help gender equality?"
Sharon Sakuwaha: We do not need changes to the law, we need enforcement to help change mindsets. Zambia is one of the few African countries that has made the most legislative progress in terms of enacting specific laws aimed at promoting gender equality. In 2015 Zambia adopted a gender equality law known as the Gender Equity and Equality Act No 22 of 2015. The Act among other things, addresses the promotion of women in decision making structures, sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, equal pay for equal work and prescribes stiff penalties.
This law has been in force for the past five years, but sadly it has not been operationalized because the Gender Equity and Equality Commission responsible for its implementation and enforcement has not been established. The law exists but the practices, attitudes and social norms are slow to change because patriarchy is deeply entrenched within our culture. We need enforcement of the Gender Equity and Equality Act if mindsets are to change. For me, the establishment of the Gender Equity and Equality Commission should be at the heart of the conversation as we celebrate International Women’s Day.
2. Kim Hawkey, VP Content and Editorial Operations, Afriwise. Kim heads up editorial operations at Afriwise and is responsible for the platform’s content management, development and maintenance.
Afriwise asked: "Is there a woman lawyer who has inspired you?"
Kim Hawkey: “Victoria Mxenge, the freedom fighter, the legal eagle, the courageous fighter against injustice”. This is how former South African Chief Justice Pius Langa referred to the late Victoria Mxenge, a dedicated lawyer, wife and mother who used the law as a weapon to fight for justice and the freedom of those oppressed by the South African apartheid state.
Despite facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles and challenges, as well as the murder of her husband, civil rights lawyer Griffiths Mxenge, Mrs Mxenge continued to crusade for justice, taking over the law practice her late husband had established, where she fought for the rights of the marginalised and victims of the apartheid system, and as a political activist. For this, she paid the ultimate price when she was murdered in 1985.
Mrs Mxenge leaves behind a legacy of unwavering strength, dedication to justice and freedom, and compassion. Like me, many lawyers today, both women and men, continue to be inspired by Mrs Mxenge and the values she lived – and ultimately died – for.
Afriwise asked: "What do inclusion strategies look like in your law firm?"
Folake Elias-Adebowale: Our founding philosophy: As a firm, we aim to achieve and to sustain what our founder, Senator Udoma, has described a 'culture of excellence' in all aspects of legal service delivery. To this end, our firm culture from inception to date has been a demonstrably consistent and meritocratic firm culture. We have sustained parity and inclusion across the board - whether measured in terms of gender, religion, tribe, leadership, employee cadre or otherwise - from inception to date.
How did we get here: The early involvement of Dr Myma Belo-Osagie (now Of Counsel) in the partnership soon after Senator Udoma established UUBO in 1983, at a time when senior female involvement outside of owner-led or family-owned firms was rare, fostered our ‘’gender blind’’ approach. Secondly, our outlook and current strategies have been serendipitous, in the sense that we appear to have achieved today’s balance in leadership by happy accident rather than design.
Culture and policies - examples: The leadership supports and promotes any individuals to leadership who demonstrate a healthy respect, and capacity, for fostering our service standards and what the partnershipconstantly advocates : a commitment to outstanding client service delivery. We prioritise achieving and sustaining this objective as a priority, regardless of gender, nationality or any other factor. Our consciously meritocratic approach is one of the key historic and current attributes of the firm of which we are most proud.
We prioritise staff welfare, and have historically been family-oriented, with an open door, collegiate approach both to work across our diverse practice areas and to readily supporting its staff where non-work challenges may challenge the achievement of our professional objectives. We have an entrenched 'zero tolerance' policy for sexual harassment in any form whatsoever.
We offer 4-6 months fully paid maternity leave (far in excess of statutory prescriptions and current practices), flexible time for newly nursing mothers. We provide an equipped and dedicated creche with monitoring technology (current staff have video feed access enabling them to view the creche) and a carefully vetted creche caregiver (a godsend in nanny emergencies!). These facilities are available to our wider UUBO ‘’family’’ including former employees.
We run an annual ‘’bring your children to work’’ which is always fun, and our firm-wide social gatherings are often planned from a family-friendly perspective.
I do not think that the comparatively high retention rates, loyalty to the firm and longevity of careers at the firm that we currently enjoy would have been possible or sustainable without the evolved and visionary outlook of the firm’s leadership and management. What makes that unique , and what makes me personally very proud, is the fact these policies have often been strongly advocated or fully supported by our senior male leadership and colleagues.
The ratio of female to male partners at Udo Udoma & Belo-Osagie today has evolved from 1:1 at inception to our current balance of 8 women:7 men, a statistic that is decidedly unique in the Nigerian legal market - and beyond!
A very Happy International Women’s Day from all of us at UUBO!
4. Joy Hadji Alliy, Founding Partner, Novita Law, Tanzania. Joy founded Novita Law following 12 years of professional experience working on numerous transactions in both the public and private sector where she earned a reputation for blending legal expertise with business acumen.
Afriwise asked: "Is there a female lawyer who has inspired you? If so, why?"
Joy Hadji Alliy: The female lawyer who has inspired me throughout my legal career is Lucy Henry Sondo. I first came across her when I joined a well-known law firm in Dar es Salaam at the age of 25. She stood tall, exuded an incredible amount of confidence, and was exceedingly driven. A senior associate at the time, Lucy already exhibited many leadership attributes that made her partnership material and had a democratic servant style of leadership.
The legal profession can be incredibly competitive and ruthless, and yet Lucy still found time to mentor the junior associates and help promote the well-being of those around her. She was always incredibly warm and friendly with a very cheeky sense of humour.
Lucy went on to start her firm 10 years ago, and I moved on to work at another firm, and finally settled at my practice. Throughout the 16 years that I have known her, I tried to emulate her attributes but would often struggle with the pressures of constantly having to maintain this strong female lawyer persona.
I was heartbroken when I heard that Lucy had suffered a stroke two years ago. We met up several months later she shared with me her experience. Through Lucy, I learnt that although women work twice as hard for recognition, and have struggled for years to break the glass ceiling, all that effort is worthless if we do not acknowledge the importance of self-care.
5. Jean-Michel Trésor, VP Operations, Afriwise. Jean-Michel is responsible for operations and translating internal learnings into value and world-class solutions for our subscribers and partners.
Afriwise asked: "When it comes to inequality and injustice, what aren’t we talking about enough on a day like this?"
Jean-Michel Trésor: The International Women’s Day is, to my humble opinion, probably the most important day of the year, although its name might cause some, if not most of the people, to believe it only concerns women.
We are not talking enough about the root cause of all inequality. I do totally concur with former French Minister of Justice, Mrs. Christiane Taubira’s doctrine according to which the matrix of all inequality and injustice is rooted in sexism.
Sexism, which to me is an invented patriarchal social construct, has denied access to more than 50% of the population to position of power, to education, to decision making, to numerous professions, to responsibilities, to equal pay, etc. because of a fact of nature: they were born women!
When a fact of nature is used to exclude someone, removing such “justification” causes all other pretexts (colour of skin, religion, sexual preferences, handicap, etc.) used to exclude people to collapse. That’s why, for me, this day is so important.
Sustainable and lasting eradication of inequalities and injustice in the world is essentially the fight against sexism!
The question however remains: how can we come up with proper and effective policies when an astonishing number of men are still struggling to acknowledge or in denial of their sexist thinking? With an increasing number of sexist leaders governing, I believe there is still a long way to go.
Finally, I believe we don’t talk enough of the silent majority of women cleaning, farming, cooking, nurturing, educating, socialising, taking care of the very young, sick and old, in short carrying societies (for millennia) with no or very little pay.
A very Happy International Women's Day from the Afriwise team!