Women’s participation in the justice sector as a human right and crucial factor needed to achieve better justice for women was reaffirmed during the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York.
“It’s the right thing to do because, of course, it is a human right [for women] to participate in all important decision-making processes within the justice sector,” remarked IDLO’s Director-General Irene Khan. “But it’s also the smart thing to do because women’s participation brings greater legitimacy to the judiciary. It is more representative of the lived experiences of society and of women’s experiences.”
Together with the GQUAL Campaign and the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), sponsored by the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar, IDLO co-organized a side event on March 12 focused on the transformative contributions women make to the justice sector at local, national and international levels.
The discussions were informed by IDLO’s report Women Delivering Justice: Contributions, Barriers, Pathways, launched in November 2018.
Mounting evidence collected in the report illustrates that women judges play a crucial role in ensuring social protections for women and girls – a focus of this year’s CSW.
However, in addition to discussing the research supporting the advantages of having women judges on the bench, IDLO’s report exposes the barriers women face, not least of which is enduring gender biases.
Justice Susan Glazebrook of the Supreme Court of New Zealand and President-elect of the IAWJ, stated, “Discriminatory laws of course persist in many parts of the world today. But even outwardly neutral laws can be interpreted in a fashion that favors the status quo – and that is a world where privileged men disproportionately hold positions of power [in] the judiciary.”
Discussants also spoke to other myriad obstacles, such as cultural and social norms and discriminatory nomination processes, that make it harder for women to enter into the justice sector.
“These challenges need to be overcome for the sake of the justice sector, for the sake of women, who have a right to participate in decision-making, but also for the benefit of justice seekers,” continued Director-General Khan. “The quality of justice and the quality of the justice experience actually improves when women receive justice from other women.”
Panelists also acknowledged that women’s representation in the justice sector is an issue that transcends gender equality and has implications for justice for all.
“It is not because of gender equality so much as it is [a] human right when women can be significant parts of the decision process, representing the whole society and ensuring no girl, or any[one], is left behind,” said Dr. Hind Abdul Rahman al-Mufta, Member of the Shoura Advisory Council, Associate Professor and Vice-President for Administration and Finance, Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.
Echoing the powerful effect of diversity and representation, Viviana Krsticevic, GQUAL representative and Executive Director of CEJIL stated, “Women - in all our diversity as humans - bring unique perspectives and experiences to the bench, improving with it the quality, nuance, perspective, and impact of discussions and decisions.”
Citing global statistics reflecting the low numbers of women in the justice sector, Director-General Khan reminded that increasing women’s professional participation requires political weight and collective action.
Calling for increased mobilization to catalyze meaningful progress, she concluded: “Justice is blind, but it must not be gender blind.”
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The sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 11 to 22 March 2019.