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Opening ceremony of the 17th International Association of Women Judges Africa Region Conference

Statement by the Director-General, Ms Jan Beagle

26 October 2022
Mr. President,
Colleagues and friends,

It is a great pleasure to address this important gathering- the International Association of Women Judges Africa Region Conference on behalf of the International Development Law Organisation.

IDLO is the only global intergovernmental organisation exclusively devoted to promoting the rule of law to advance peace and sustainable development. We are proud to support this Conference.

I would like to thank our hosts and partners: the National Association of Women Judges in Uganda (NAWJU), the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), the Ugandan Judiciary and the Governments of Sweden and Austria for bringing together this impressive gathering of women judges from across the continent.

I am honoured to be in your company.

I am particularly pleased to do so in a Year that a fellow New Zealander, Supreme Court Justice Susan Glazebrook, is the President of the International Association of Women Justices.

I would like to thank Honourable Lady Justice Henrietta Wolayo for the warm welcome to me and to the team from IDLO.

We are meeting at a time when justice and human rights are under sustained pressure, both globally and across the continent.

Over 5.1 billion people globally lack effective access to justice. The poorest and most vulnerable members of society, including women and girls are the hardest hit.

The most recent progress report on the Sustainable Development Goals highlighted that at the current rate of progress, it may take another 286 years to remove discriminatory laws and close gaps in legal protection for women and girls.

The Association’s mission-to support and empower a global network of women judges to advance gender equality and human rights- is a critical to closing the justice gap.

The ability of women to participate fully and equally in all aspects of public and private life is both an inalienable human right, and a fundamental requirement of inclusive and participatory governance.

This is particularly important for the justice sector, which develops enforces and adjudicates laws and policies that govern broad aspects of political, economic and social life.

Ensuring that women have an active, and I would say leadership, role in shaping justice systems- not just as justice seekers, but also as policymakers, adjudicators, and implementers- is key to strengthening people’s confidence in the justice system’s ability to work equally and impartially.

Women’s participation brings a diversity of experience that helps ground the administration of justice in lived reality and makes laws and institutions more responsive to the specific justice challenges faced by women and girls.

Women judges have made ground-breaking decisions that have transformed the way in which criminal justice has administered especially on cases involving rape, sexual violence. Forced marriage, among others.

In Africa, women judges have played a critical role as custodians of equality in all aspects of life, including upholding women’s rights in areas of matrimonial property and inheritance disputes.

In traditional settings or in cases of assault or intimate partner violence, women seeking justice are often more comfortable dealing with other women as police officers, judges, lawyers, and court officials.

Women judges in many cases, are also taking steps to ensure that the court environment is more accommodating for full range of litigants, including for example, extending special protection measures for trauma victims, or providing facilities that increase accessibility for nursing mothers.

That is why, it is not only unfortunate, but also unfair and impediment to development, that women’s participation in the justice sector, particularly the judiciary, remains low.

In recent decades, while the number of women in the sector has increased, gender parity has still not been achieved globally.

Research conducted by IDLO, and others shows that serious barriers continue to impede the entry, retention, and advancement of women judges.

These include:

  • Stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes towards women;
  • A lack of transparency in recruitment and promotion processes;
  • Legal and social restrictions on women’s mobility;
  • A lack of transparency in recruitment and promotion processes;
  • Legal and social restrictions on women’s mobility;
  • And sexual harassment and lack of respect for women’s authority.

Dismantling these persistent barriers should be our joint priority.

Promoting women’s leadership and participation in the delivery of justice is critical for gender equality and a key part of IDLO’s work.

This is explicitly enshrined as a principal objective in our Strategic Plan.

Ten years ago, in September 2012, at the High-level Political Forum, on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels, IDLO committed itself and its resources to ensure women’s increased participation in the justice system.

Our experience over the past decade shows that dismantling barriers to women’s participation in the justice sector requires consistent, targeted, and ambitious action on multiple fronts.

IDLO’s approach to promoting gender equality in the justice sector includes:

Harnessing political will for governments to make a conscious effort to improve women’s participation in the justice sector;

Instituting transparent and fair selection, nomination, and promotion processes in courts;

Supporting women’s judges and law networks at the national, regional and international level;

Strengthening gender expertise in the judiciary and supporting judges who are responsive to gender concerns and support the empowerment of women and girls.

We advance this approach through our programmes, research, and advocacy, both globally and in the region.

We are honoured to be a long-standing partner of the International Association of Women in Judges in promoting a much-needed focus on gender parity in the judiciary at the global, regional and national levels.

IDLO commends IAWJ and its members in successfully gaining recognition of the important role played by women judges through the adoption of the UN General Assembly Resolution designating the 10th of March each year as an official day for recognizing and celebrating the work of women judges around the world We are proud to work with the National Association Women Judges of Uganda to strengthen capacity on gender-responsive adjudication and strengthening institutional resource mobilization and coordination.

Last year, we were pleased to support the Association in the development of the research report on the “Assessment of Justice Delivery for Victims of Defilement in Uganda”.

The report was launched by the Chief Justice of Uganda and has been disseminated within the judiciary.

In Kenya, IDLO partnered with the International Association of Women Judges-Kenya in conducting a “gender audit” of the judiciary.

Last year, Chief Justice Martha Koome launched the Judiciary’s Gender Mainstreaming policy, which drew upon our collective work on gender audit.

This is part of her vision to promote social transformation through access to justice.

In Somalia, where IDLO is promoting access to justice through alternative dispute resolution centres, we continue to champion the inclusion of women as adjudicators, counsellors, and advisors. These women are invaluable in supporting cases brought by other women to the ADR centres.

Although much has been done, we cannot afford to be complacent as much more work remains.

One of the key challenges is the limited data collection on women’s participation in the justice system.

In many cases data on women justice professionals continues to be incomplete, inconsistent, or inaccessible.

There is urgent need to support current efforts to build a global system of data collection that captures not just numbers, but all aspects of women’s participation in justice sector.

At IDLO, we have been working to address this deficit by conducting primary research to provide quantitative and qualitative data on the contributions of women judges, the barriers they face, and concrete actions to increase the number of women justice professionals.

National Associations of Women Judges have a key role to play in every country. We heard today that there are now 43 such associations that have grown over the past 20 years. Since today I have the honour of being in the presence of H.E the President and his Lordship the Chief Justice, I would like to respectfully request that the NAWJ receives all the support and resources they need to contribute to the shared goal of access to justice for all.


You have the power to achieve gender parity in the judiciary and to drive change systemic change.

In this, IDLO is your proud partner. I wish all of us a successful conference and I look forward to the outcome of the discussions and transforming your deliberations into concrete action that changes the lives of people we serve.

Thank you.