GQUAL’s Call to Action on #8M: Make the equal participation of Women in International Justice a Reality!

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect and learn from the many achievements in the fight for gender equality. It also allows us to restate our commitment to building societies free from gender-based violence and discrimination.

One fundamental step in the path forward is guaranteeing that women have “full and effective participation and equal opportunities of leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life”, as outlined by the Sustainable Development Goal agenda (SDG 5.5). Equal participation is not only a key pillar of democracy, but it is also a way to ensure women’s diverse perspectives and experiences are essential in shaping the laws, practices and culture of our societies. The presence of more women mentors and role models helps eliminate harmful stereotypes and cultural practices that associate men with authority, experience and power, in the public and private spheres.

On this International Women’s Day, the GQUAL Campaign calls on the international community to act on one fundamental space of leadership and decision-making that is affected by the lack of women’s equal participation: international justice. In our globalized world, decisions made at an international level have a high impact in our communities, the relations between nations, the future of the environment, the protection of rights, the handling of migration and refugee situations, and many other key issues. Women, who make up more than half of the world’s population, should not be absent from these decisions.

Yet, current data shows that women are under-represented in nearly all of these important spaces. In over 70 years of existence, the International Court of Justice has had only four women judges. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea improved its composition in 2017, increasing from one to three women out of 21 members, achieving an all-time high of 14%. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has a sole woman judge out of seven members, and from 2013 to 2015, there were zero women judges. Overall, the representation of women in main international and regional courts is 26%.

Despite the use of specific language in the treaty regarding the importance of gender balance, the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had only 1 woman out of 18 members until June 2018 (currently 6 women serve as members), and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances has 3 women out of 10 members. In fact, out of the 10 UN human rights treaty bodies, only the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women have 50% or more women. Within the 80 available positions in the Special Procedures, that serve as independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective, only 36 were occupied by women as of September 2018. In fact, as of that same date, 15 of 56 UN Special Procedures have never been held by a woman, including key Rapporteurships such as the mandates on right to health, the prevention of torture, and freedom of expression

Clearly, more needs to be done to achieve and sustain equal representation. States are, in general, responsible for selecting, nominating, and voting for candidates; but they rarely have procedures that are transparent or account for gender. The United Nations, the Organization of American States, and other regional organizations, host some of these mechanisms. However, they have yet to develop effective guidelines and rules that would guarantee gender equality in these bodies. As a result, men are much more likely to be nominated and elected.

In June, States and international organizations will have an opportunity to advance equality by nominating and selecting women candidates for the upcoming elections of four important United Nations human rights treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED), Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW), and the Committee against Torture (CAT). None of these Committees has adequate gender representation in their current composition, ironic considering the impact of their mandates and decisions on women’s rights. Similarly, several positions among the Human Rights Council’s Special Procedure Mandates will be filled out in 2019, as well as positions in regional organs such as the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

In 2019, gender equality should not be an aspiration but a reality. The GQUAL Campaign renews its commitment to work with States, International Organizations, civil society and other relevant stakeholders to achieve this goal. Join us to #changethepicture of international justice