This Women's Month, Pranitha Ramdial talks to us about the challenges women in the legal industry (and the working world, in general) face, and reminds us to keep fighting to make a difference.
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
I am a senior manager for claims at the Road Accident Fund (RAF). Having worked for the organisation for over 20 years, I have a solid institutional memory. As a qualified lawyer, I worked as a Promotion of Access to Information Act unit manager and deputy information officer, complaints manager, project manager, senior litigation officer, senior claims handler, and claims handler at the RAF. Before changing career paths and joining the RAF, I practised privately. I hold a BA (Law) and LLB degrees.
What are the challenges facing women in the legal industry today?
Women in the legal profession face many of the same challenges as many other working women: firstly, there is the constant battle to balance family and work life. It’s a battle most women feel they are losing because focusing on one always appears to be at the expense of the other. Do I attend the important meeting or make it to my son’s soccer match?
There are specific challenges within the legal profession; although women make up a large percentage of law graduates, they remain a minority at partnership level in legal practices, and as magistrates and judges.
However, to be fair, the position now is certainly much better than say 10 or 20 years ago.
What do you believe women bring to the industry that you feel men don’t?
Growing up as women, we have different life experiences, which give us a different perspective and valuable alternative insight into issues. Women also bring their energy and drive, passion for and commitment to creating a more just and equal society, one in which every person, irrespective of their race or gender or sexual orientation is valued and nurtured so that they can grow up to fulfil their promise and contribute fully to our society.
What do you think is the most important piece of legislation affecting women that has been passed – either locally or internationally - within the last 20 years?
- Our constitution / Bill of rights with its Equality Clause.
- Employment Equity Act of 1998, (family responsibility added to the grounds on which no unfair discrimination may take place and introduced affirmative action for women of all races.)
Over the course of your career, what are some of the differences you’ve experienced as a woman in your field?
Men who are assertive are praised for their leadership skills but women who are assertive are often regarded as “difficult”, “manly/unfeminine”. Women are expected to display all the stereotypical feminine qualities (be nurturing, demure, soft-spoken, graceful) whilst doing what was previously “a man’s job”.
What is your message to young women this Women’s Month?
The working world has changed a great deal over the past decades and working women today certainly have far greater career possibilities/opportunities than in the past. But make no mistake, women continue to face huge challenges, and the battle for equality in society in general, and the work place in particular, is far from won. Make sure that you grab hold of every opportunity given to you and obtain the experience in different fields, even if it does not come with a promotion or salary increase.