Not long after IAWJ was founded, our members expressed a strong desire for forums in which they could speak honestly about their concerns both as judges and as human beings.

As a result, in 1994 IAWJ started a judicial training program known as the “Towards Jurisprudence of Equality Program” (or “JEP”), whose approach was formalized in workshops during that year’s Biennial Conference in Rome. The concept is that, through facilitating discussions among judges on particular topics, each judge’s knowledge and experience can be leveraged to create a “greater expertise.”

IAWJ launched its first round of JEP training in 1997 in five South American countries. After this pilot proved successful, other programs followed – and today JEP trainings are being conducted in over 25 countries worldwide. They are especially effective because these programs can be run by IAWJ members and member organizations in their own countries.

JEP Training Advantages

At their core, all JEP trainings share the following features:

They are judge-centered and judicially-owned at both the international and national level: IAWJ works with and through its chapters to provide training that is responsive to local needs and whose content is guided and shaped by in-country judges. The association trains judges to become trainers themselves so they can pass this skill onto colleagues, since judges are best equipped to communicate and collaborate with their peers.

They rely on participatory learning methods: Judges and magistrates are used to a high degree of professional autonomy, and consequently bring to trainings their specific and often unique knowledge and experience. JEP trainings draw on this expertise through the use of case studies, role plays, small group work and other participatory techniques.

They encourage the application of international law in domestic courts to the extent permitted by local (i.e., national) law: During JEP trainings, judges explore the meanings of international law texts, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), in the context of their national laws.

They are practical and non-abstract: Through stakeholder consultations and outreach to women’s groups, medical practitioners, police and prosecutors, JEP trainings work to address concrete problems identified by national chapters.

Present Challenges

Ghana

In 2014, the Ghanaian Chapter of IAWJ convened a meeting of judges and traditional women leaders known as “Queen Mothers.” Many Queen Mothers have professional degrees as nurses or teachers, but they also have traditional roles such as helping girls mature into women, and an interest in combatting domestic violence. The Queen Mothers have jurisdiction to resolve minor crimes, but are meant to bring serious offenses to police. Whether due to fear of police or the stigma of rape, many victims refuse to go with them to the police – so if the Queen Mothers do not try to help, no justice is possible.

Above: Queen Mothers Meeting for a Day-Long Meeting with Ghanaian Judges

Unfortunately, several judges noted that the Queen Mother’s idea of “justice” is in conflict with Ghanaian criminal law. The Mothers have attempted to arrange marriages between women and their attackers, concerned that since the victim lost her virginity, it would be difficult arranging a match later. The judges invited a psychologist to describe to the Queen Mothers the trauma of rape, as well as a police officer from the victim support unit, and a judge on a gender-based violence court. A dozen Queen Mothers and a dozen judges spent the day together, sharing perspectives and ideas.

Many Queen Mothers described the day as transformative.  One commented that she now realized – for the first time –that she herself had been raped.  The judges gave the Queen Mothers copies of the new Domestic Violence Act (which also contains an updated sexual assault provision).  One of the Queen Mothers said that this statute would become her bedtime reading every night until she had memorized it.  Armed with this statute, she said she would no longer be intimidated by the police.

Tunisia

In an IAWJ conference room in Tunis in April 2016, a young family court judge asked her colleagues for ideas for dealing with parents who come to her court, fearing that their children are in the process of being radicalized.  She mentioned one young man whose parents were concerned that he was using ISIS-like rhetoric, excoriating his older brothers for serving in the Tunisian military and being involved in its fight against ISIS.  There are no programs for such youth – no counseling, religious or otherwise.  There are also no programs for the parents.  The judge committed the young man to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation, but after three days the psychiatrists concluded he was not ill and let him go.  The parents are desperate.  The judge asked her more experienced colleagues for help and advice.  What should she do, when the parents’ fears seem so clearly reasonable, but there are no resources to which she can turn?

Above: IAWJ Tunisian Members discussing issues they face in their courtrooms