How can Judges be Held Accountable?
Each year, operating as a channel of communication between society and legal systems, Women’s Link Worldwide organises the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards, demonstrating how justice with gender perspective must be a reality around the world. This post takes a look at some of the court decisions which have most positively and negatively affected gender rights.
In legal practice, it is not uncommon to find discriminatory court rulings that violate the rights of women and girls, leaving them with no protection when they need it the most. Unfortunately, these decisions occur all over the world. For example, in a case in the Montana District Court, in the United States of America, a 14-year old girl was raped by her teacher. Her aggressor was sentenced to a mere 30 days in prison since the judge considered that the girl was acting “older than her chronological age” and was “as much in control of the situation” as the 49-year old teacher who raped her. Similarly, judges of the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic did not recognise the nationality of a Dominican mother-of-four, as she was the daughter of Haitian immigrants. Further, it demanded that the government do the same in all cases of Haitian descendants born in the Dominican Republic.
Nevertheless, and more promisingly, judges also take courageous decisions and use the force of law to guarantee equality. For example, a woman in Zimbabwe fell pregnant after falling victim to an act of rape and, despite national law authorising it, was denied access to emergency contraception and later to an abortion, She was therefore forced to give birth. Despite all the pressure placed upon them, the judges of the country’s Supreme Court upheld the State’s responsibility for not having guaranteed the woman’s rights, demanding that she be compensated and that measures of nonrepetition be taken. Similarly, the right to property of women in polygamous marriages in Rwanda was safeguarded by judges of the Rwandan Supreme Court which confirmed that the principle of equitable distribution of property in cases of dissolution also apply to these unions, despite the fact that these marriages are not recognised by national law.
All of these cases are part of the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards (GJUA) organised by Women´s Link Worldwide (WLW), an international human rights non-profit organisation working to ensure that gender equality is a reality around the world.
As these cases confirm, judges give content to the principle of gender equality, therefore contributing to its progress or its regress. However, in this endeavour, how are judges held accountable for the decisions they take? The women in these stories have names, as well as a life that has changed, either for better or for worse, due to the judicial decisions taken in these cases. In this way, the GJUA propose a channel of communication between society and judiciary, rendering the court rulings and statements of judges around the world visible, as well as inviting people to debate about how these cases did or did not guarantee equality.