2006 South Africa

Legal Pluralism and Gender Equality

South-Africa-FlagSouth Africa’s legal pluralism has long presented challenges for the country’s legislature and judiciary. During the colonial period and under apartheid, both African customary law and Islamic marriages were denied recognition as valid marriages. This left women living within these systems of law invisible and without recourse to justice outside of traditional institutional remedies. South Africa’s new constitution enshrines the right to culture and religious freedom, and makes explicit provision for the recognition of cultural and religious marriage. The constitution also includes a robust set of individual rights, principal among them the right to equality, often at odds with traditional and religious practices. The question of recognition of religious/cultural marriages has been brought to the fore in post-apartheid South Africa and has presented a whole new set of challenges and difficulties. It is one instantiation of the dilemma of how this particular liberal democracy balances its competing constitutional commitments to multiculturalism and substantive equality. While the mission aimed to explore how the law treats women situated within the realm of culture differently to women located within religious groupings, particularly in relation to the question of recognition, it was also a study of the multiple ways that culture and religion intersect and the impact of constitutionalism on women’s lives, ten years after the demise of apartheid.

To read the Crowley Program’s South Africa report, “Gender Equality and Customary Marriage: Bargaining in the Shadow of Post-Apartheid Legal Pluralism” please click here.

To read more information on the current human rights situation in South Africa, please consult:

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

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Leitner Center for International Law and Justice
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Faculty and Staff
Paolo Galizzi
Clinical Professor of Law
Director, Sustainable Development Legal Initiative
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