As I write this blog entry, I’m waiting for a trial to begin in Khayelitsha, a township outside of Cape Town. This summer, I’m interning with the Women’s Legal Centre, a Cape Town organization that works to promote gender equality in South Africa, and today an attorney and I are monitoring the criminal trial of nine young men who murdered a woman because of her sexual orientation. The case serves as a sobering reminder that large gaps exist between South Africa’s progressive Constitution and the attitudes of many who live here, and emphasizes to me just how important the WLC’s work is.
Court monitoring is just a small part of the WLC’s work, which includes impact litigation, legal aid, advocacy, and outreach. The office is small, friendly, and relaxed, with plenty of staff parties where I’ve gotten to sample South African treats. While the office environment is laid back, WLC attorneys work incredibly hard, and do meaningful work on a wide range of issues, from reproductive rights to sexual offences to women’s rights under customary law. Right now, the WLC is focusing a lot of its energy on combating corrective rape, a practice in which a man attempts to “cure” a lesbian of her sexual orientation by raping her. To address this practice, the WLC is attempting to establish the practice as a hate crime, and to ensure that offenders are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
I work closely with the three other interns, and we’ve been lucky enough to receive many meaningful, substantive assignments. One of my first assignments was researching arguments through which the state may be held vicariously liable for the actions of police rapists. This assignment allowed me to research tort policy, the South African Constitution, and South Africa’s international obligations. At the moment, I’m working on an outreach strategy to encourage mothers to report paternal incest of their daughters to the police; mothers are often hesitant to report this crime because they are fearful of the economic insecurity that will result from their husband or partner being jailed for his actions. For this project, I’ve gone beyond legal research, examining cultural factors that allow child sexual abuse to continue and policy initiatives that have combated this abuse.
While my work at the WLC has largely been based in the office, last week I attended a march that protested the lack of female condoms in South Africa, and other interns have visited outreach sessions with sex workers in Cape Town. All in all, I’ve been really happy with the work I’ve done at the WLC; not only do I appreciate the mix of legal and policy research, but I truly feel like my work is making a difference here at the WLC.
Outside of work, I’ve tried to experience all I can in Cape Town and around South Africa. Some of the highlights so far have been a Cape Malay cooking class (the traditional Muslim cuisine in Cape Town), a visit to an ostrich farm, and a full moon hike. (Here’s a photo from the hike- Note the WLA shirt!) Coming next: A safari in Kruger National Park, a tour of the winelands, and a visit to the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. It’ll be tough to leave this beautiful city in a few weeks, but I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends and getting in some beach time before the start of EIP.
- Elizabeth Hague, Rising 2L, International Committee Chair