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Gender Balance and Equality in Pacific Judiciaries

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Gender Balance and Equality in Pacific Judiciaries
By Adelaide Howell
Posted: 2024-05-24T13:30:08Z

Towards Gender Balance and Equality in Pacific Judiciaries, a report by Dr. Carolyn Graydon

Summary by Adelaide Howell

Download full report here.

This report, written by Dr. Carolyn Graydon, offers a comprehensive study on gender representation in Pacific judiciaries. The purpose of this report is to provide Pacific women in the judiciary with foundational information that will help inform their future actions regarding gender equality within their jurisdictions. Furthermore, the report aims to identify and analyze barriers preventing female participation and provide recommendations on how to best address these barriers.


The report begins with words from Judge Nazhat Shameem, Fiji’s first female judge, to create a common understanding of a “gender-competent bench.” She describes it as a judiciary where all judges, irrespective of gender, are aware of their own gender biases and understand how these biases affect their judgment. This awareness goes beyond merely achieving gender diversity in numbers. It involves a deep understanding of how historical and cultural perceptions of gender continue to influence the legal system and judicial decisions. A gender-competent bench requires judges to be self-aware of their subconscious biases and knowledgeable about the gendered history of the law. This understanding is crucial for judges to perform their roles impartially and demonstrate gender competence in their judicial power.


While increasing the number of women in judiciaries is vital, it is equally important to create environments free from gender discrimination, enabling women judicial officers to contribute effectively. The study highlights progress in the Pacific region, where the inclusion of women in judiciaries is gradually increasing. Women’s presence in judicial roles, particularly in magistrate courts, is becoming more normalized and accepted, which is noteworthy considering the majority of these societies are patriarchal. Despite this progress, women still make up only 18% of judges in superior courts and 6.7% of lay magistrates and justices. However, they constitute around 40% of law-trained magistrates, which is a notable achievement.


The slow rate of progress in appointing women judges, especially in higher courts, is attributed to opaque judicial appointment processes that allow gender bias to persist. Although there is a significant pool of qualified women candidates, the lack of transparency and the predominance of male-dominated appointment bodies hinder faster progress. However, it is imperative that we continue to work towards greater female participation because increasing gender balance in judiciaries strengthens their function by broadening the bench's knowledge and experience, enhancing legitimacy and public confidence, increasing societal fairness, challenging male privilege, and providing female role models. To address this, the report calls for more transparent and merit-based appointment processes to ensure a balanced representation of women in judiciaries.


Women in local-level courts face the most significant gender barriers. These include social and cultural biases, gender discrimination from colleagues, and gendered risks related to personal security. Despite these challenges, many women judicial officers feel respected and valued in their roles. However, nearly half of them identify persistent gender barriers, including stereotyping and cultural obstacles. We must not give up hope because women in judicial leadership have made significant recent gains, with the number of female Chief Justices increasing from one to four, albeit with two in acting roles, and several women occupying senior magistrate roles.


The report discusses several positive conclusions, such as how the gender balance in Pacific judiciaries is advancing rapidly in magistrate courts. Women form a majority in Kiribati (69%), Vanuatu (63%), and Solomon Islands (50%), despite strong patriarchal norms, while Tonga (22%), FSM (25%), and PNG (35%) show increasing numbers. Furthermore, most women judicial officers (87%) feel respected by court leadership, and court users (93%) accept their competence and authority on par with men. Yet, there are still many barriers women must face in this regard (see report).


To support greater gender equality and the advancement of women judicial officers, several priority areas need addressing. The first is professional development, which includes ongoing training, mentoring, coaching, and educational opportunities crucial for preparing women for higher courts and senior roles. Second, action towards reducing and managing workloads with increased administrative and research support. Third, providing work conditions that allow for better work-life balance, enabling employees to balance familial responsibilities with work responsibilities. Fourth, ensuring physical and cultural safety at work, considering gendered differences, and protecting against threats, violence, and harassment, most importantly taking complaints or reports of harassment seriously. Lastly, improving work environments to enhance efficiency and comfort in workspaces with the help of better technology, privacy, and facilities.


Implementing these recommendations requires strong court leadership and inclusive change processes. Women judicial officers are eager to lead these changes and support establishing a Pacific chapter of the International Association of Women Judges. Court development partners can aid by providing targeted assistance to address technical and resource needs, helping Pacific judiciaries navigate their unique paths toward gender competence and equality.