International Development Law Organization

Tunisia workshop promotes pathways for women justice professionals

18 Dec 2017

A regional workshop co-organized by IDLO brought together female judges, lawyers and academics in Sousse, Tunisia to discuss women’s effective participation in justice delivery and policy making across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Focusing on five countries – Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia – the meeting on 24 and 25 November 2017 sought to take a closer look at both barriers and pathways for women justice professionals.

Barriers for women and the ‘feminization’ of the justice sector

IDLO and CAWTAR’s research showed that in Tunisia, the number of women magistrates grew by 34.8% between 2002 and 2007, against an increase of only 8.7% for the number of male magistrates.

Obstacles present themselves not only in the selection, recruitment and retention of female judges. Often women’s professional participation is hampered by the lack of an enabling legal environment or by attitudes and stereotypes that question their experience and suitability as judges. Cases of sexual harassment and other forms of harassment and insubordination are common.

In addition, many countries see women confined to certain roles, leading to an under-representation in leadership positions – known as the ‘glass ceiling’. When women are absent or excluded from higher-level positions, they have very little influence on decision-making. A participant from Algeria, lawyer Yamina Houhou, noted that in her country, women account for 44% of magistrates and 66% of justice professionals in lower courts. However, Algeria has only one woman general prosecutor, and just three of the country’s 48 chief justices are female.

In Algeria, women account for 44% of magistrates and 66% of justice professionals in lower courts. However, there is only one woman general prosecutor, and just three of the country's 48 chief justices are female.

“Women’s representation is important because diversity helps institutions adjust to social cultural contexts and be attuned to the issues of the times,” explained Rea Abada Chiongson, IDLO’s Senior Gender Adviser. “When women are included there is a higher chance that social justice issues are included, because we are tapping knowledge, interpretations and experience that are different from the norm.”

When women are included there is a higher chance that social justice issues are included

The first woman judge of Lebanon, Arlette Jreissati, explained that in her country, the ‘feminization’ of the judiciary took place not only thanks to Lebanon’s merit-based recruitment system and good access to education; increasingly, women also started benefiting from their male counterparts’ preference for the pay and prestige of international work.

Tunisia: Peer Council for Equal Opportunities

On behalf of the Tunisian government, H.E. Néziha Labidi, the Minister of Women, Family and Childhood, presented the ‘Peer Council for Equal Opportunities for Men and Women’, a new initiative that will see high-ranking officials join forces to advance gender equality in a number of sectors.

Its main mission is to integrate the social gender approach into Tunisia’s development policies and plans, with the aim of eradicating all forms of discrimination between women and men and achieving equality in rights and obligations. It is also empowered to give its opinion on bills relating to women's rights.

Ms. Labidi suggested that recommendations emerging from the CAWTAR-IDLO research could feed into the Council’s agenda.

Concrete steps to ensure action

In 2018, Tunisia will chair the Arab League’s Committee of Women, Family and Childhood for one year – an opportunity to advocate for increased efforts by Arab countries to ensure women’s professional participation in the judiciary, according to H.E. Inas Mekkawy, Director of the Women, Family and Childhood Department at the Arab League.

But progress will only be made if the overarching goal is broken down into concrete steps, said Dr. Soukaina Bouraoui, Executive Director of the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) and a member of IDLO’s Board of Advisers. She outlined potential actions that can be taken and have proven effective, such as establishing statistical databases at the national level, providing training on women’s rights (including international treaties) for the justice sector, promoting the professional advancement of women magistrates, building the capacity of women’s associations, and hosting roundtables to discuss good practices.

Judge Kalthoum Kannou, Tunisia’s first female presidential candidate

Kalthoum Kannou, a Tunisian judge and the country’s first female presidential candidate, confirmed the importance of data for policy and strategy.

Jordan’s first female Supreme Court judge, Ihsan Zuhdi Barakat, added the importance of monitoring compliance with international treaties: “We in the Arab world must assess how much our public authorities comply with conventions such as CEDAW, so that what is enshrined in law is enacted in practice.” 

We in the Arab world must assess how much our public authorities comply with conventions such as CEDAW, so that what is enshrined in law is enacted in practice

IDLO’s program

IDLO is working in Tunisia with support from the Government of Italy to help female legal and justice professionals participate effectively in justice delivery and policy making. Together with CAWTAR, research is being conducted on women’s professional participation in the justice sector both in Tunisia and at the regional level. The study is aimed at making available the necessary information to promote equal opportunities for women and men and enhance women’s participation in decision-making positions within the justice sector. In line with IDLO’s gender pledge, this follows similar research that IDLO carried out in Afghanistan.

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