In the past, the Ethiopian judicial system had been seriously affected by lack of public trust. Failure of integrity both at the individual and institutional level was the main cause of the distrust. In particular, the problem of corruption, favoritism, and inaccessibility was said to be characteristically rampant within Ethiopia's judiciary at all levels. Due to this, citizens had generally no or little trust in the judiciary which, in turn, has significantly diminished the public trust in the rule of law, hope for democratization, and the protection of fundamental rights.
With a view to ensuring judicial independence, addressing the problem of integrity, and improving transparency and accountability, the leadership of the court, in close consultation with stakeholders, has taken a series of efforts including revision and enactment of the legislation. These legislative frameworks and related activities provided robust bases to effectively tackle the problem of judicial integrity.
Each and every judge is fully aware of the importance of ensuring that court sessions are open to the public, that not even the slightest obstacle is put in the way of journalists who want to report on court cases, and that all rulings are read in an open court. These are all part of the modern interpretation of the rule of law. The interpretation that was perhaps best expressed by the English author J.B. Morton when he wrote: "Justice must not only be seen to be done but has to be seen to be believed."
However, does not that same principle apply also to judicial integrity? Should integrity not also 'be seen to be believed'?
Integrity of the judiciary is of vital importance to the society. The integrity of a judge should be without a shadow of a doubt. But how does one actually show the integrity of a judge? How can it be 'seen to be believed' by the public? And how can the society believe in the integrity of the judiciary as an organization? A judge as an individual can be honest, honorable and incorruptible, but if their colleagues are not, and if the organization is imbued with corruption, this will reflect on that judge and will affect their work.
On the occasion of the first ever International Day of Women Judges on 10 March 2022, the members of the Advisory Board of the Global Judicial Integrity Network would like to share with the Network's audience their views on the importance of this International Day and the role of women judges in strengthening the judiciary and judicial integrity. The Advisory Board members invite all participants of the Network to join them in celebrating this International Day and reflecting on the ways to promote the full and equal participation of women at all levels of the judiciary.
Historically, the legal profession was not considered suitable for women. As time progressed, so did women and today women enter this profession of choice. However, there are still not enough women in the judiciary and certainly not enough women in the superior judiciary. This paradigm must change. In the process of administration of justice and writing judgments, judges have an important role, as judicial decisions have a wide and deep impact on social constructs, social order and systematic inequalities that prevail in the system.
When judges interpret and implement the law, their reasons and opinions are a reflection of their thought process, an insight into their perceptions. These perceptions in the very least must be representative of both men and women on the bench so as to ensure a fair and adequate response through judicial decisions. It is important to note that including women in the judiciary is not simply about ensuring that her perception is relevant to resolving cases about women. It is much more than that. It is about integrating the gender perspective and giving equal visibility to women.
Fairy tales create strong associations and are reinforced by parental reassurance in the telling and by repeated retelling in films and fiction, which further reinforce these archetypes: goodies and baddies, brave princes and beautiful princesses, all strike powerful chords with us throughout our lives. It is no coincidence that multiple studies confirm the prevalence of strong associations between men and leadership roles, and women and nurturing roles.
We know that gender bias is a global problem. Judges have an important role in challenging the narrative that men were born to lead, women to care. Our defining role is to do justice. If the judiciary perpetuates the effects of withholding opportunity, limiting education and refusing support, then we are part of the problem. The essence of integrity includes diligence, honesty, and fairness. If we do not examine the factors that produce unfairness, there is a lack of diligence, perhaps even a dishonesty, in our wilful blindness. There are historical reasons for the gender pay gap, for the limited number of female applicants for prestigious roles, and for the continued failure of the judiciary to reflect the population over which we sit in judgment. Knowing those reasons, complacency moves towards complicity.