Institute for African Women in Law declares its support for the nomination and election of Professor Phoebe Okowa to the International Law Commission (ILC) of the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU) for 2023 to 2027.
Professor Okowa is currently Professor of Public International Law at Queen Mary University of London. A distinguished graduate of the University of Nairobi and University of Oxford , an acclaimed international legal scholar, Professor Okowa’s qualities and qualifications speak for themselves. She has taught and carried out research in Public International Law at the highest level in different Universities around the world for more than 25 years.
Ongoing research by the Institute for African Women in Law shows that there are African women equally qualified to lead. Across Africa, women have risen to leadership positions as Chief Justices, as judges in international courts and tribunals, and as presidents of international courts.
Our support for the nomination and election of Professor Phoebe Okowa is solely premised on the principles of diversity and inclusion as clearly indicated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the various constitutional provisions of Member states, Sustainable Development Goal #5, articles 8 and 9 of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of African Women (Maputo Protocol), respectively. A vote for Professor Phoebe Okowa to the International Law Commission of the United Nations is a win for gender inclusion, and the beginning of efforts to address the exclusion and discrimination against African women in Law.
Moreover, this campaign for the inclusion of women in law such as Professor Phoebe Okowa to the International Law Commission of the United Nations is in consonance with the core mandate of the Institute for African Women in Law, which is to promote positive and sustainable social change through legal advocacy by empowering African women in Law. A vote for Professor Phoebe Okowa to the International Law Commission of the United Nations will be a historic vote for the international representation of African women within the law and judicial profession.
Professor Phoebe Okowa’s election will be considered as initial measures taken by the International Law Commission of the United Nations towards the inclusion of women. A vote for Professor Phoebe Okowa will symbolize greater human resource to the ILC and dignity to African women and the African continent at large. This will attract a positive and favorable image from the community of women in law, specifically African women.
We encourage the United Nations and Member states to prioritize advocating for the inclusion of women from diverse socio-cultural backgrounds in order to attain gender parity and cultural diversity at the International Law Commission. As it stands now, the International Law Commission is nowhere near gender parity despite the outstanding contributions of women including Eleanor Roosevelt, Hansa Mehta, and Minerva Bernardino among others to its existence and survival.
The International Law Commission gained positive media attention when it first elected two women namely; Paula Escarameia of Portugal and Xue Hanqin of China in 2001. Since then, only five women have been elected, hence a clear indication of gender disparity.
The first African woman to be nominated to the Commission was Ms Mwangala Beatrice Kamuwanga of Zambia in 1991 and unfortunately, she was not elected. It has taken another 30 years for an African State to nominate a woman. This signifies a total marginalization of African women in the International Law Commission for over 70 years of its existence, in spite of the overwhelming rhetoric of gender inclusion and diversity across various UN bodies. This marginalization cannot be overlooked by Member states and the United Nations going into the November 2021 elections.
It is time for Member states of the AU and the UN to walk the talk of gender parity being ‘an urgent need, moral duty and operational necessity (Guterres 2017). It is time for Member States of the AU and UN to heed the spirit of the laws of gender equality. Professor Phoebe Okowa identifies as an African woman in law, a vote for Phoebe Okowa is a vote for the representation of African women in law.