Slide 1 of 11: Female professionals in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region experience significant obstacles to their participation in the justice sector. Barriers include discriminatory legal frameworks, gender-biased enforcement, limited justice sector capacity, and social and cultural norms that perpetuate inequalities. Yet women are finding ways to overcome these hurdles, and several countries have seen ground-breaking developments.
Slide 2 of 11: In Morocco, women justice professionals were instrumental in reforming the Personal Status Law. Jordan’s women judges represented 18% of the judicial corps in 2014 – a number that has been steadily increasing since the first female judge was appointed in 1996. Tunisia was already a regional leader in 2010, with women justice professionals accounting for 42.8% of judges.
Slide 3 of 11: Welcoming the participants, IDLO's Director-General Irene Khan congratulated them "You are an amazing group of women. As a Muslim woman from Bangladesh and as a lawyer, I know from my own experience how hard it is to lead in your profession. I congratulate all of you for breaking society's stereotypes of what a Muslim woman can or cannot do, for overcoming barriers, prejudices, misperceptions to fulfil your dream. You are role models for thousands of girls, millions of girls, not just in this region, but all around the world.”
Slide 4 of 11: Marie-Anne Birken, EBRD General Counsel, commented on women working in the legal and justice sector "For a long time, the legal profession was exclusively male. In several western countries, women gained access to the legal profession at the beginning of the 20th century, but were not admitted as judges till much, much later. We have made a lot of progress, and now increasingly have women participating in the judicial sector and in the law. As we at EBRD are hiring lawyers to join the legal department, the vast number of applications are women. However, there is still a long way to go. In my own experience, the hurdles were not so much with getting into the legal profession, but advancing, progressing.”
Slide 5 of 11: Speaking on behalf of the Supreme Judicial Council of Morocco, Vice-President Latifa Taoufik highlighted the steps her country has taken to promote the status of women in society: “Morocco has always been supportive of progressing the implementation of constitutional provisions, paving the road for women to participate fully in public life. Early on, after gaining independence, Morocco was able to overcome socio-economic hurdles that prevented women from reaching important positions. The first female appointment was in 1961. Now, Moroccan women have got used to participating in the justice system. Their presence is outstanding. They perform highly in the national judicial institute, and more and more graduates are reaching executive positions, coming very close to the top of the pyramid of the judicial system.”
Slide 6 of 11: Mina Sougrati, Head of the Union of Moroccan Women Judges, commented that the Middle East and North Africa region in particular “is going through a period of change; amendments in laws and legislation and new constitutions have been adopted that will give women the rights they have been fighting for.”
Slide 7 of 11: Hon. Ihssan Barakat, Jordanian Judge of the Court of Appeal of Amman, shared her personal experience of “male and female colleagues who believed that women are not just a gap filler. This is a right and rights have to be secured. You don’t always receive them readily. Women have to go out there and integrate in leadership positions, also beyond the judiciary. We can give some responsibilities to EBRD and IDLO for the necessity of showing success stories of Arab women who have broken the glass ceiling.”
Slide 8 of 11: Hon. Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane from Sri Lanka provided a different perspective from beyond the Mediterranean region: “Where there is inequality, there is discrimination; where there is discrimination, there is oppression. And where there is oppression, there is violence. We want equality, which is a human right. How do you change attitudes? These are all acquired traits - they can be unlearned. Attitudes can be changed using international law and uncovering gender stereotypes held unconsciously.”
Slide 9 of 11: In breakout groups, participants brainstormed ideas for the establishment of a regional women judges’ platform and ways to foster women's advancement and leadership. The goal of the platform is to support emerging women leaders in the justice sector – especially women judges – in finding their collective voice. In providing a common platform to advocate for reducing gender barriers in the judicial profession, the network would focus in particular on issues such as gender-based violence, equal family and marriage rights, and women’s economic participation in entrepreneurial activities.
Slide 10 of 11: Speaking on behalf of the International Association of Women Judges, Hon. Ann Walsh Bradley, Justice of the Supreme Court of the US State of Wisconsin, told participants about the IAWJ’s work as an organization with over 5,300 members worldwide and praised the opportunity to discuss a regional platform for women judges. “Our very presence here today marks a success. We all have those we can point to who have been inspirational to us in our careers and our personal lives, and there are so many strong women in this room.”
Slide 11 of 11: In interactive panel discussions, participants spoke about their national experiences, highlighting the pathways they have used to enhance their participation - whether through increasing the number of women in their profession, improving the quality of women’s participation, or enabling transformative changes in legal or justice reform. Here, women judges from West Bank and Gaza and Tunisia exchanged stories of successes and failures with other panellists from Jordan, Morocco and Lebanon.