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Breaking the Bonds of Judicial Patriarchy at the International Court of Justice: States Must Act Now

By J. Jarpa Dawuni, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Institute for African Women in Law


In the words of UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, “we must urgently transform and redistribute power, if we are to safeguard our future and our planet. That is why all men should support women’s rights and gender equality. And that is why I am a proud feminist.”


The recent confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court has galvanized new debates on the issue of gender and representation in high courts. What has gone largely unnoticed in popular media is the issue of women and representation in international courts. What does it take to be an international court judge—who just so happens to be a woman? Are international law and international judicial selection mechanisms equitable for all sexes?

On November 11, 2020, elections will be held simultaneously by the United Nations Security Council and the General Assembly to fill five judicial positions on the ICJ. In a communique issued on June 29, 2020, the UN Secretary-General listed the names of the eight final candidates—only three are women, representing 38% of the candidate list. The three women candidates are Julia Sebutinde of Uganda, Hanqin Xue of China, and Maja Seršic of Croatia. As one of the principal organs of the United Nations, member states must ensure that the selection processes at the ICJ are in line with the plethora of efforts under the UN to achieve gender equality. Gender diversity at the ICJ matters for the simple reason that women make up at least half of the global population; women have the qualifications and merit for international judicial positions, and women must be given equitable opportunities through transparent processes of nomination at the national level, and election at the international level.