Representation and Leadership for Women in the Judiciary: Progress, Challenges, and Impact in the Americas
On October 23, the Wilson Center organized a webinar titled: Women in the Judiciary and the Rule of Law in Latin America. Speakers included: Bruna Santos, Director of the Brazil Institute; María Eugenia López Arias, President Magistrate of the Supreme Court of Justice of Panama; Ana Margarita Rios Farjat, Minister of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation, Mexico; and Hilarie Bass, President and founder of the Bass Institute for Diversity and Inclusion, and President of the American Bar Association.
Impact of Women Judges in Higher Courts on the Rule of Law
Regarding the impact of women in the judiciary, Magistrate López highlighted that women are more organized, less susceptible to corruption, and apply the law comprehensively. Hilarie Bass mentioned that although women judges may be slightly more lenient than their male counterparts, their rulings are similar. Women are more empathetic, identify implicit biases, and are more likely to build consensus, which is relevant to avoiding trials and pursuing settlements. A diverse judiciary enhances public trust, confidence in court decisions, and the rule of law and democracy. Magistrate Rios emphasized that a diverse judiciary brings new perspectives and, consequently, drives positive changes, provided stereotypes are not considered.
Magistrate López reported that due to legislative adaptations in Panama, the representation of women in the judiciary increased from 50.9% in 2007 to 63.5% in 2023. In the Supreme Court, 6 out of 9 magistrates are women, 3 of whom have served for 30 years in the jurisdictional body.
Minister Rios pointed out that although women make up approximately 50% of the federal judiciary in Mexico, there is an unequal distribution across hierarchical positions. This situation has been influenced by personnel increases. From 1995 to 2021, the number of women magistrates increased from 42 (15%) to 189 (21%), and women judges increased from 39 (22%) to 206 (30%). For the first time, the President of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) is a woman. In 2021 and 2022, both presidents of the chambers of the Supreme Court were women simultaneously. However, gender quotas remain necessary because social and cultural factors, rather than institutional obstacles, still contribute to disparities. The Mexican Supreme Court is working to convey the message that professionally successful women can balance motherhood and pursue a career in the judiciary.
United States of America
Hilarie Bass explained that 4 out of 9 justices on the US Supreme Court are women, and for the first time, 24% of supreme court judges are women. She also noted that President Biden appointed 77% women in his first two years, while President Trump appointed 23% in his four years. Due to lifetime appointments, change is slow, and it may take 20 to 30 years to achieve gender parity. Despite Biden's appointments, only 12% of the federal judiciary are women, and 37% of the entire judiciary are women.
Initiatives and Programs to Promote Ethnic Diversity
Magistrate López reported that Panama has a gender unit promoting judicial training. Regarding ethnicity, there are no distinctions, and there is no specific percentage of women required in the bench. Furthermore, they have a program to encourage indigenous women's participation. In some communities, indigenous women hold significant leadership roles.
Minister Rios shared that alongside gender, ethnic diversity is also gaining attention, with Panama initiating programs to encourage indigenous women's participation.
Factors Leading to Women Lawyers in the Private Sector Quitting Before Reaching Leadership Positions
Finally, Hilarie Bass shared that 56% of graduating classes are women, so women do not face difficulties in obtaining their first job. However, when they reach the age of 50, despite successful professional careers, they often leave due to gender bias issues such as lack of pay equity, lack of recognition, and exclusion from networking spaces.
All speakers unanimously underscored the dire need to persistently back and elevate women in the judiciary. This ensures judiciaries are balanced, equitable, and infused with a myriad of perspectives.