/ 31 August 2018

Amelia Rawhani

Being a woman working in the legal profession comes with pitfalls
Being a woman working in the legal profession comes with pitfalls, says Amelia Rawhani. (Graphic: John McCann)

A part-time in-house counsel at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and junior advocate at the Johannesburg Bar Society of Advocates, Amelia Rawhani sees herself, above all, “as a lover of humanity”. It is her background that has informed this ethos.

“I’ individuals have that will eventually lead to peace in the world. This is done through the conscious effort of applying the skills and talents you have as an individual to the service of humanity,” she says.

Her eight years at the Johannesburg Bar has seen her doing exactly that. A member of the Bar’s transformation committee, she says the need for transforming the profession is “fundamental”.

“And not only transforming the male-dominated nature of this profession, but also transforming these spaces so that they are more conducive to the majority of the population being reflected in any profession. It is fundamentally important to me.”

Of Iranian descent, her parents moved to South Africa in 1984 “in the midst of apartheid to assist and help develop South Africa”. Rawhani is following in their footsteps.

“The underlying background we grew up with was to be of service to humanity. That is the attitude I had towards my career. I try to apply my skills and the principles I’ve grown up with — equality of men and women, equality of the races and consultation as a problem-solving method. I believe that the unity of humanity can be brought about through justice. The legal system at the moment doesn’t necessarily follow through in providing access to justice, but it is the only system society has at the moment, and I want to be part of that.”

Aside from what she refers to as “the standard advocate’s challenges”, Rawhani says being a woman working in the legal profession also comes with its pitfalls.

“People second-guess you. There is this ‘bro code’ between attorneys who have been in the profession for a long time. A lot of my colleagues have had many challenges in not being given serious commercial or criminal law matters. There seems to be an attitude of ‘We don’t want to give you tough work’.”

In addition to this, she says: “You also have to always have your guard up, because there is unfortunately a lot of sexual harassment within this profession.”

Navigating these challenges, she adds, is made easier by knowing that there are women colleagues she can call upon.

“I have a really, really good support base of other women who warn you when necessary, assist you with work when necessary, and I am able to call on senior women when necessary. And that makes a lot of difference. Having someone who you go to, who can mentor you and walk you through things.”

The role of women in effecting change is “fundamentally important”.

“I don’t understand how a country expects to develop itself with at least 50% of its population held back. Sometimes I wonder whether men aren’t getting tired of having to carry the load and the expectation. I genuinely feel like South Africa and the world would transform so much if more women were held in equal regard to their male counterparts in every field.

“Because we are the underlying backbone of society. And that gets negated so much. I think people don’t realise how little they could do without women. Once we are able to harness this power, we would propel ourselves so, so far.”