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The State of Women Judges Across Africa

Judges from Cote D'Ivoire From June 3-7, 2019, women judges across Africa converged in the beautiful city of Abidjan – the capital of Côte d’Ivoire in West Africa, for the biennial regional conference of the International Association of Women Judges. The four-day conference was hosted by the Association of Women Judges of Cote D’Ivoire (Association Femmes Juristes de Cote D’Ivoire-AFEMCI). The theme for the conference was “Unity, Judicial Cooperation and Solidarity Among Women Judges in the Implementation of Sub-Regional, Regional and International Laws.” The conference was filled with excellent presentations on a wide range of legal issues including mutual legal assistance and international judicial cooperation, the role of judges in implementing legal instruments relating to vulnerable people, protections against transnational crimes, trafficking in persons and migrants, cybercrime, terrorism , sexual and gender-based violence, and women’s rights to rural land and right to inheritance.

The Vice President of the Republic of Côte D’Ivoire, H.E Mr. Kablan Duncan, in his opening address, congratulated the work of women judges/magistrates in Cote D’Ivoire, and urged them to continue to stand for justice and fairness. Other speakers included the Deputy Mayor of the city of Cocody, Mrs Odette N’zi, Honorable Judge Vanessa Ruiz, Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Washington, DC and current president of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), Judge Hannah Okwengu, Court of Appeal of Kenya and outgoing president of the Africa regional chapter of the (IAWJ). Others included Judge Sylvain Ore, Judge and president of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, (ACtHPR) and Judge Imani Aboud of the ACtHPR. Also in attendance were justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, Judges of Courts of Appeal from Ghana, Benin, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda.

Mrs Haddad N'guesson-Zekre, President of AFEMCI

Hon. Judge Vanessa Ruiz, District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and President of IAWJ, Washington, DC Mrs Fatoumata Diakite, magistrate and counselor in the administrative chamber of the Supreme Court of Côte D’Ivoire gave an opening presentation on the history of women in the judiciary of Côte D’Ivoire. She stressed the importance of transparent and open judicial appointments as key to increasing gender diversity. Dr. J. Jarpa Dawuni, Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for African Women in Law presented her research findings on women judges across Africa. Judge Vanessa Ruiz highlighted the importance of judging with a gendered perspective as necessary to correcting legal inequities in the law and society.

Judge Sylvain Oré, President of the ACtHPR (center) and Judge Imani Aboud (right) Judge Ore, in his presentation, noted the high number of women on the bench of the ACtHPR and the role of the court in building a feminist jurisprudence of law. He noted that “what women want, God wants” to imply that women have special strategies in pushing governments to address gender issues as was the case with the advocacy for passing the Protocol on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (The Maputo Protocol). Judge Imani Aboud of the ACtHPR encouraged members of civil society to pressure governments to deposit the Declaration that allow individuals and NGOS to have access to the ACtHPR, while reminding participants that citizens can still access the court through the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

An all-women band entertaining guests The four-day packed conference was not without fun. Participants were treated to a cultural show and visits to cultural sites such as a tour of the lagoon, visit to the museum and Yamoussoukro. A major challenge that participants had to address was the issue of language as a barrier to African solidarity and cooperation. The conference organizers did an excellent job providing simultaneous interpretation in English and Portuguese. Nonetheless, some participants raised concerns about communication gaps prior to the conference. Madam Goun, a member of the Ivorian women magistrates/judges and Director of Child Protection Services at the Courts reiterated the importance of solidarity and encouraged all participants not to be fixated on the language barriers. She acknowledged her desire to speak English, Portuguese and many other African languages. Nonetheless, she reminded participants that English and French are not indigenous African languages and therefore should not be allowed to interfere in the quest for regional solidarity and cooperation. Justice Hannah Okwengu, Court of Appeal of Kenya, handed over her leadership of the regional association of women judges to Mrs. Suzanne Haddad N’guesson Zekre, former Attorney General of the Supreme Court and President of the Association of Women Magistrates (Association Femmes Magistrates de Cote D’Ivoire—AFEMCI). The next biennial conference is tentatively scheduled to take place in Uganda in 2021.

Judges from Nigeria

Judges from Kenya

Judges from Nigeria

Jurist Cissé Makoueni

Judges from Kenya

Supreme Court Judges of Nigeria, (l-r) Kekere-Ekun, Abba Aji and Augie

Judges from Côte d'Ivoire and Benin

Prof. Jacqueline Lohoues-Oble of Cote D'Ivoire

Judges from Ghana


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