Equality in the Courts

From a legal literacy brochure produced as part of the “Jurisprudence on the Ground Program”, which involved a collaboration among IAWJ, the Tanzanian Women Judges Association (TAWJA) and the Tanzanian Chapter of the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa.

“Gender can have an effect on one as litigant, witness, lawyer, employee, or judge, with regard both to process and substantive outcome. Gender plays a role –in the appointments process, in interactions in and outside the courtroom, in the work one does, and in federal adjudication. As a participant in the Ninth Circuit, one’s gender affects how one views the judicial system and, often, how one is viewed by it.”

Report of the Ninth Circuit Gender Bias Task Force, Executive Summary of the Preliminary Report of the Ninth Circuit Task Force on Gender Bias, 1993. 

The IAWJ believes the judiciary has a role in ensuring equality and equal access to justice for all. It starts within the judicial system itself and with recognition of the many ways gender may affect how courts are perceived and operate. IAWJ members and chapters have been front and center in ground-breaking initiatives to raise awareness about gender issues in the courts and take steps to address them, including: 

  • Developing protocols for specific types of cases, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and femicide;
  • Creating Gender Bias Task Forces in the US to examine all aspects of courtroom interactions – both on and off the record, in judicial chambers, between and among judges and attorneys — and the level of incivility or gender bias. 
  • Creating Gender Offices within the Supreme Courts in Ibero-American States to provide 24-7 wrap-around services for domestic violence victims. 
  • Organizing Gender and Judging Conferences in Pakistan, Ghana, and Brazil.
  • Organizing conferences, workshops and trainings that incorporate explorations of the meaning of “equality” and the concept of “stereotypes” of gender found in Article 5 of CEDAW in (literally) dozens of countries, from Argentina to Zambia.

The IAWJ encourages members to share information on efforts to make their justice systems more inclusive with respect not only to gender issues but also on all axes of diversity. In particular, we value hearing from you about initiatives that lead to any of the following: 

  • Data collection and analysis on diversity (or the lack thereof) on the bench and in the bar. 
  • Disaggregation by race and gender of court-maintained statistics on criminal and domestic violence. 
  • Ensuring that courts are accessible to disabled lawyers, judges and litigants, and encouraging the incorporation of assistive technologies in the courts. 
  • Encouraging inclusivity in the faculty of national judicial training institutes and in the committees that identify training topics.
  • Developing and disseminating “Know your Rights” legal literacy materials (such as the above cartoon illustration from a brochure developed by the Tanzanian Association of Women Judges in collaboration with a local NGO).
  • Conferences, panels and meetings on diversity and inclusivity across all axes. 

Equality is never a “zero sum game”. Equality cannot be achieved by taking something from one group and giving it to another. Equality is attained through mindful recognition of, and struggle against, all forms of bias whether express or implicit. Empowered women judges have much to contribute to the goal of equal justice for all. 

This blog post was written by Ms. Anne Goldstein, IAWJ’s Director of Human Rights Education, and Ms. Nancy Hendry, IAWJ’s Senior Advisor.