By Nani Jansen Reventlow
Our international courts and tribunals are dominated by one gender: male. While that might not come as a surprise, the numbers are still shocking. Of the 72 positions available in international tribunals like the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, only 13 are held by women. Women hold just over a third of the available positions in regional human rights tribunals such as the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights and only 4 of the 34 members of the International Law Commission are women.
This underreported problem demonstrates a profound weakness in the bodies we entrust to resolve some of the most important international issues. Lack of equal representation in the international justice system raises fundamental questions about its legitimacy and impact: women make up nearly half the world's population, yet are sorely underrepresented in the organisations that make crucial decisions that concern them.
Equal representation matters in all areas of law and not only those that "concern women", as Nienke Grossman of the University of Baltimore points out. She has done extensive research on the issue of gender on the bench: "When it comes to subject matter jurisdiction and gender, some people make the argument that women are necessary when the subject matter includes “women’s issues.” The corollary to that argument is that they are unnecessary, or less necessary, when it does not. ... But any area of international law concerns both men and women equally, regardless of its subject matter jurisdiction. In other words, men do not have a monopoly over the Law of the Sea. It affects both men and women equally, and both groups should be represented on courts that are interpreting the Law of the Sea."
To change the male-dominated landscape of international justice, the GQUAL campaign was launched in September 2015. Under the tagline #changethepicture the campaign, hosted by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), focuses on raising awareness and coordinating action to overcome the underrepresentation of women that affects virtually all international tribunals and monitoring bodies. The campaign has put forward the GQUAL Declaration, which asks governments to nominate and vote with the aim of promoting gender parity in international tribunals and bodies. It also asks States and international organizations to develop mechanisms, guidelines and standards to promote the equal representation of women, and all signatories support research and coordinated advocacy. It has now been signed by over 1,000 men and women. In addition to its advocacy work, GQUAL has taken proactive steps in advertising available international positions to encourage more women to apply.
To mark the two-year anniversary of the campaign, GQUAL gathered more than one hundred experts from over 30 countries in early October to take stock of the current landscape and devise concrete next steps. Over the course of two days, the group met in The Hague and discussed the issue not only from an international law and international relations perspective, but also looked at examples from equality campaigns run in other contexts, such as arbitration and the corporate sector. Expert working groups identified possibilities of improving gender parity by taking action in specific contexts, such as changing the national procedures that underlie the nomination of candidates for international court positions and improving voting procedures within international bodies. The conference resulted in the adoption of the GQUAL Action Plan, by which signatories pledge to take priority action within their sphere of influence to promote gender parity in international tribunals, human rights commissions and treaty bodies, international arbitration, and other international monitoring mechanisms and bodies. It has been signed by more than fifty people, including the Vice-President of Costa Rica and high level representatives from Uruguay and Chile, the Presidents of the International Criminal Court and ICTY, the Secretary General of IDLO, and Baroness Helena Kennedy on behalf of the International Bar Associations Human Rights Institute. The Action Plan has also been endorsed by organizations and initiatives such as ArbitralWomen, the International Disability Alliance, the Swedish Foundation for Human Rights and Amnesty International.
The GQUAL Campaign will now focus on increasing the support for the Action Plan from State Representatives and organizations and strengthening the alliances built during the event in order to coordinate the implementation of the actions adopted as a result of the Conference.
Doughty Street is a proud signatory of the GQUAL Pledge and very much supports this invaluable campaign. Doughty Street International is committed to playing a role in ensuring more women reach the very highest echelons of the international judiciary.
Nani Jansen Reventlow is an Associate Tenant with Doughty Street and strategic adviser to the GQUAL campaign.