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Empowering Women in Nigeria's Judiciary Leadership

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Empowering Women in Nigeria's Judiciary Leadership
By Jane-Adrienne Karla Charles-Voltaire
Posted: 2024-05-28T14:35:11Z

Empowering Women in Leadership in the Judiciary: Lessons from the Global South 

In February 2024, the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) successfully concluded the last of its workshops for the Women in Leadership in Law (WILIL) program in coordination with the National Association of Women Judges – Nigeria (NAWJN) in Abuja, Nigeria. IAWJ had previously conducted workshops with national associations in Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, and Mexico, aimed at facilitating dialogue, sharing key institutional data, and developing strategic solutions to overcome barriers faced by women in law and the judiciary. The culmination of these workshops, and the themes that emerged, reaffirmed to IAWJ that having an association gives judges a platform from which to advocate for court reforms, including transformational institutional change. Not coincidentally, it can also protect individual judges from retaliatory actions they might otherwise experience for suggesting that change. 

Nigeria Workshop: Challenges and Collective Strategies 

At the National Judicial Institute (NJI) in Abuja, prominent judicial figures from NAWJN led three days of proceedings, demonstrating strong support for advancing gender parity within the judiciary. These included, Justice Kudirat M. O. Kekere-Ekun, CFR, JSC and NAWJN President; Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem, President of the Court of Appeal Nigeria; the Administrator of the National Judicial Institute, Justice Salisu Abdullahi Garba; and the IAWJ President, Justice Binta Nyako, Federal High Court of Nigeria. 

During the workshop, NAWJN representatives presented data indicating that women make up 33% of state court judges and 36% of federal judges in Nigeria. Emphasizing the importance of comprehensive data, they advocated for evidence-based strategies to address gender disparities effectively. 

In addition, participants, including representatives from women lawyer groups (FIDA, AWLA, & NBA Women’s Forum), shared personal stories about their motivation for entering the judiciary; some were influenced by novels and courtroom television dramas, others by family and legal mentors. These stories also provided deep insights into the challenges and triumphs faced by women in the law, emphasizing the importance of mentorship and advocacy against pervasive sexual harassment. Some of the critical challenges hindering women's advancement in the judiciary that were revealed are: 

  1. Limited Access to Decision-Making Roles: The underrepresentation of women in influential positions affects policy and decision-making. 
  2. Sexual Harassment and Workplace Bullying: Persistent issues that create hostile environments. 
  3. Inadequate Support for Working Caregivers: A lack of supportive policies makes balancing career and family responsibilities challenging.  

Moreover, to reinforce its commitment to overcoming these barriers, NAWJN leadership issued a communiqué outlining several resolutions aimed at advancing gender equality within the judiciary: 

  • Advocate for policies that address gender inequality; 
  • Promote education and awareness on gender equality and sextortion; 
  • Strengthen mentorship and partnerships within the legal profession; and 
  • Address gender-based violence and harassment decisively. 

Ubiquitous Challenges, Unified Solutions 

The WILIL workshops, like the one hosted in Nigeria, have given IAWJ the time and space to listen to and engage with dozens of women judges across five pilot countries (Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Mexico, and the Philippines). One of the strongest messages IAWJ heard is that women entering and rising up the judicial career ladder does not mean necessarily that women are flourishing. 

 Across these unique judicial systems, IAWJ heard recurring themes regarding the challenges women in the judiciary face: 

  •  Prevalence of sexual harassment and bullying 
  • Lack of representation of women on Judicial Service Commissions 
  • Lack of policies that address parental and caregiver needs  
  • Lack of transparency in transfer, promotion policies 
  • Lack of mentorship and networking opportunities 
  • Lack of visibility of women judicial actors 

 To address these challenges, the IAWJ has identified multiple drivers for change: coalition building, mentorship and empowerment, comprehensive data collection and sharing, and engaging judicial gatekeepers. Through the WILIL program, IAWJ, along with the pilot country associations, will tackle these systemic challenges in an effort to promote gender equality within judiciaries.  

Overall, the lessons learned from these dialogues and workshops form a solid foundation for ongoing and future efforts to transform systemic barriers into opportunities for the next generation of women leaders in the legal field, ensuring a more just and equitable judicial landscape worldwide.