International Day of Women Judges 2023

Welcome to our blog, the Human Righter. We shed light on contemporary human rights issues and comment on human rights developments. We dig deep into our focus areas within human rights, discuss SDGs and human rights. You will also find book reviews and analyses of new laws.

This blog post was written by Amanda OliveiraIntern at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s HQ.

On the International Day of Women Judges[1], we must highlight that the democratization of access to justice also involves gender representation among magistrates. Historically, women have been excluded from all decision-making spheres, including the judiciary. These spaces were once occupied exclusively by men, as female participation in high leadership careers was prohibited. Despite this no longer being a reality, due to continued gender inequality in the judicial system, women remain underrepresented as judges worldwide. For this reason, March 10 was established by the United Nations (UN) as Women’s Judges Day to celebrate advances and to reaffirm that the battle for parity continues.

The first-ever International Day of Women Judges was celebrated on 10 March 2022 after being designated by the UN General Assembly in 2021[2]. The date was also a result of the Global Judicial Integrity Network’s effort to honor the accomplishments of women judges and broaden female representation in the judiciary. On the first celebration, Judge Vanessa Ruiz – a member of the Advisory Board of the Global Judicial Integrity Network – said[3]:

The International Day of Women Judges recognizes the leadership of women judges in promoting the rule of law and equality and encourages women and girls to contribute their talents in their countries and to the international community. It also commits to national strategies that overcome obstacles to the inclusion of women at all levels, including the highest courts and policy-making bodies of the judiciary.

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of women lawyers. Nowadays, half of the law school students in several countries are women, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). However, the proportion of them who become judges is still unequal compared to men who hold the same position. Regarding the composition of the Superior Courts, the rates of women as members or presidents are even lower. Data collected in 2017 showed that they only hold 33.6% of judgeships in Supreme Courts all over Europe. [4]In 2021, Latin America recorded almost the same low percentage of female ministers in the highest Courts, which was 30,4%.[5]

One might ask why representativeness on the bench is crucial. More women as judges matter for reasons of historical reparation for the exclusion of the female gender from decision-making processes, to give equal voice to all representatives of society in the justice system, and to realize substantive and material equality between genders. In addition, mirroring society’s representatives in the Judiciary is essential to positively influence young women to assume leadership positions if they so wish. Therefore, the female presence in Judicial structures increases the system legitimacy and conveys a strong message that the courts are open and accessible to anyone seeking justice.[6]

Judge Rosie Johnson

Judge Rosie Johnson is an example of how a gender perspective is relevant to the decision process in sensitive cases such as domestic violence against women. Before becoming a judge in Papua New Guinea, she was a lawyer and suffered regular physical aggression from her partner. As a victim, Judge Johnson faced police negligence in investigating the violence she suffered. They continued to send her home, arguing that this was a case to be resolved between the family. Thus, her experience shaped her perspective as a magistrate and helped her to deal with allegations of domestic violence “in a very sensitive way”.[7]

Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg

Another example of female protagonism in the judiciary is the life of the United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020). When she was 29, Ruth Ginsburg went to Lund University for a legal research project. Immersing herself in Swedish culture opened her eyes to a new understanding of gender equality in social roles, which she also carried for her professional life[8]. After returning to the United States, Ruth Ginsburg spent her career as a lawyer and Supreme Court Judge fighting for women’s rights. In the Court, she wrote the historic ruling that overturned the Virginia Military Institute’s male-only admissions rule[9].

Ketanji Brown Jackson

Finally, it is important to stress that promoting more women to judicial positions must include a racial perspective. White and black women struggle with distinct oppressions. Black women’s access to decision-making spaces is even more challenging as they face intersectional discrimination. In other words, they are oppressed by gender and racial discrimination in an inseparable context, which makes women of color even more excluded from judicial careers. Thus, the celebration of March 10 cannot forget that the entry of white and black women into the career of judges is far from equal.

As the access of black women to the Judiciary happens at a slower pace, it is necessary to articulate specific measures that pay attention to the racial aspect of the struggle of black women to become judges. For instance, only in 2022, the United States saw the first black woman – Ketanji Brown Jackson – becoming a Justice in the Supreme Court.[10] During her remarkable discourse at the White House, she said[11]:

“It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. But we’ve made it. We’ve made it. All of us.”

In this second celebration of the International Day of Women Judges, we must praise everyone who fights gender discrimination in the judiciary, especially those women who have become judges despite a system that historically works against them as leaders. Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls is Goal 5 of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This goal must encompass all levels of society, mostly the decision-making spaces where women can influence the rule of law and public policies.

[1] <>

[2] <>

[3] <>

[4] European judicial systems Efficiency and quality of justice, CEPEJ STUDIES No. 23 (Edition 2016, 2014 data).

[5] <>

[6] <>

[7] <>

[8] <>

[9] <>

[10] <>

[11] <>

Share with your friends
Scroll to top