Vienna, 9 March 2023 — Historically, women have been underrepresented in many fields, from the arts to government to law enforcement. But their underrepresentation in the field of justice in particular can have far-reaching consequences.
Justice is a right in itself but is also an enabler of other rights. Without access to justice, other universally-recognized human rights - including those that protect and empower women and other vulnerable or marginalized groups – might exist only on paper. Equal representation of women in the judiciary and other criminal justice institutions is therefore a crucial step to help ensure these rights and protections are being enforced. With their different perspectives and experiences, more women in justice can enable better responses to gender-based violence, trafficking in persons, and other crimes that may disproportionately affect women and girls. In addition to more effective, victim-centred responses to crime, women justice professionals are needed to address the unique needs and risks of women accused of crime or in prison.
Notable progress has been made towards achieving a gender-balanced criminal justice institutions – 40 per cent of judges were women in 2017, for example, a welcome 35 per cent more than in 2008. Yet the world has a long way to go before gender parity is achieved in the field. Women hold only 33.6 per cent of judgeships in Supreme Courts in states belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for example, and 30 per cent across Latin America.
Such imbalances led Ghada Waly, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to launch the Women in Justice/for Justice campaign, on the first-annual International Day of Women Judges on 10 March 2022.
To continue to draw attention to the role of women in creating a more equitable justice system, Her Excellency Ms. Alma Zadic, Minister of Justice of Austria joined Ms. Waly at the event “Equality for Justice” on 9 March 2023 at the United Nations in Vienna, to mark the second-annual International Day of Women Judges on 10 March 2023.
The event focused on the experiences of women on both sides of the bench – the judges and criminal justice officials taking on the fight against organized crime, and advocates working for equal access to justice and legal empowerment for all people.
“Greater representation enhances the legitimacy of courts, signalling that they are open and accessible to all those who seek recourse to justice,” Ms. Waly reiterated in her remarks. “And it all starts with girls’ education. In schools and universities, we need to teach girls that they can accomplish their dreams and reach any position they wish to reach, including a career path in the justice sector.”
Ms. Waly pointed to UNODC’s work in achieving gender equality in the justice sector, including by training female police officers in Pakistan, where women constitute only 1.5 per cent of the entire police force. UNODC has also trained 17,500 police officers and first responders in Mexico on the prevention, detection, and referral of cases of violence against women and girls.
Following Ms. Waly, Minister Zadic called for addressing the causes fostering inequality, one of which is corruption. Corruption “affects women and men differently and undermines the very promise of equality,” she noted, “making effective political participation for citizens impossible. I am convinced that only a diverse and inclusive judiciary can be resilient enough to curb and also reduce corruption.”
Panelists from judicial institutions around the world joined to share their experiences, including Imane El Malki, a judge on Morocco’s Supreme Council of the Judicial Power; Concetta Locurto, a judge and legal adviser at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the International Organizations in Vienna; Hajara Haruna Yusuf, the Chief State Counsel in Nigeria; Mai Sami Matar, Head of the High Civil Court in Bahrain; Virginia Kendall, judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and His Excellency Luis Javier Campuzano Piña, Permanent Representative of Mexico to the UN (Vienna), Co-Chair, Group of Friends of Gender. The discussion was moderated by His Excellency Umej Bhatia, Ambassador of Singapore to the United Nations in Geneva and Vienna.
To learn more about and join the Women in/for Justice campaign, click here.
UNODC’s Global Judicial Integrity Network is open to judiciaries and a broad range of individuals and institutions, including judges, magistrates, members of judicial councils, court personnel, judicial associations, and other stakeholders, as well as relevant international organizations. To learn more, click here.On an ongoing basis, UNODC promotes the engagement of women in the criminal justice sector and stresses the importance of gender empowerment as a strategy to counter organized crime. The GLO.ACT Women’s Network of Gender Champions against Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, launched in 2022, is one example of UNODC commitment to finding solutions to the barriers and bottlenecks that prevent the meaningful inclusion of women in operational and leadership roles in criminal justice institutions.