© UNDP Pakistan


Advancing Gender Equality through Women’s Representation in the Judiciary


Evelyn Edroma

Policy Specialist, Rule of Law, Security and Human Rights, Crisis Bureau, UNDP

1 July 2019


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 and SDG 16  in particular, identifies solutions for gender equality and women’s representation in public institutions e.g. the judiciary as a global responsibility.

Who we see representing us in courts matters. People equate a gender diverse judicial institution with more representative governance. Diverse judges can ensure a balanced approach to enforcing the law and implementing equality rights, which in turn builds public trust and confidence in the state.

Since the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979, women in many countries are becoming leaders in their fields. Yet, many courts still do not adequately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Female representation in the judiciary is varied and far in between. In some countries, women make up over 30% of judges, for example in Italy (52.9%) El Salvador (48.7%), France (70.9%), Germany (44.5%), Uganda (44%), Spain (40%) and the United States of America (34.7%) while in others, the numbers are very low, such as in Kuwait (0%), Iraq (7.6), and Nepal (3.8%) (2018 UNDP pilot study to inform the methodology for 16.7.1c).

But even in the places where more women have been appointed as judges, they are still vastly underrepresented in top-ranking judicial positions and upper courts. For example, in El Salvador female representation is 35.7% in higher-level courts and 50.4% in lower-level courts while in Germany, female representation is 29.3% in higher-level courts compared to 44.8% in lower-level courts (2018 UNDP pilot study to inform the methodology for 16.7.1c).

Effective responses to these concerns require collaboration among national and international actors–each bringing its own set of skills, tools and resources to the challenge. Considering this, UNDP and the Commonwealth Secretariat, together with the International Association of Women Judges, is launching the gender diversity in the judiciary initiative, dedicated to building women’s full and effective participation.

Together, we aim to use data on the levels of female representation and barriers to gender diverse judicial institutions to provide national decision-makers with evidence-based approaches to increase gender parity and improve the quality of women’s judicial decision making.

The transformative power of this initiative lies in tackling the discrimination, social, economic, and structural barriers that women face. We will work with governments, the judiciary, civil society, and female jurists and lawyers to identify solutions to remove persisting gender stereotypes relating to: entering the legal profession; rising in their field to enter the judicial workforce; internal assignment of cases and constitution of a panel; professional development opportunities; and obtaining promotions.

We will identify strategies to ensure a balance in women’s work-life commitments. The initiative will also analyze the intersectionality of gender with other demographic factors (e.g. age, disability status, ethnic groups, and linguistic groups) and find ways to prevent further aggravation of women’s experiences.

The initiative will also help to broaden access to justice because the stigma associated with reporting some types of offences is compounded by lack of representation in the criminal justice system.  A female survivor of sexual and gender-based violence is unlikely to pursue a case if the court is staffed predominantly by male jurists.

We believe that making this important and strategic investment in gender diverse judiciaries, will exemplify the positive change that increased women’s leadership can bring in a state and the international community–offering a significant contribution to the achievement of SDG 5 and SDG 16.