European & International News

Greece elects first female President of Supreme Court - The EWL reflects on the role of women in European judiciaries

[Brussels, 22 July 2011] The election Ms. Asimakopoulos as the first woman to preside over the Supreme Court of Greece was this week greeted with enthusiasm by women’s associations in this country, including the members of the EWL. Internationally, this is also important news.

Changes in democratic societies are mostly driven by political decisions. They play an important role for shaping policy, setting up an environment in which societies operate, or challenging certain settings. Despite of the importance of political decision-making, though, there are other factors, such as the judiciary, that would influence the democratic functioning of society. Key figures point out that the general gender imbalance in decision-making is also reflected in the judiciary. The majority of members of EU courts are men. Moreover, despite the increasing importance of International courts, they are still occupied by a dramatically low number of female judges. In its sixty-five year history, only three permanent women judges have ever served on the International Court of Justice.

Legal careers of women across Europe

In Europe, despite some progress recently, the figures show a similar picture. In 1999 the Council of the European Union reviewed the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action, showing slow progress on the proportion of women members of Supreme and European Courts of Member States. Although the actual name of the court may vary between European countries, membership of the supreme court represents the pinnacle of power within the national judiciary. In 1999, just over 15 per cent of judges in the supreme courts of the EU-15 countries were women and by 2007 this figure has risen only slightly to nearer 18 per cent. Moreover, studies show that the positive effect on the overall balance within Europe is due to enlargement of the EU. In some of the new Member States women are actually in the majority amongst supreme court judges, with the most striking cases being Bulgaria (76 per cent) and Romania (74 per cent). [1].

The most recent figures do not show any significant progress. With 28 per cent female, 72 per cent male members, and no woman president of European courts the EU gender equality in decision-making has still a long way to go. [2]

Why gender is important?

Having an equal representation of women and men at all levels of the judiciary is important for several reasons. First, men and women approach the law and facts differently. Moreover, International and European courts make decisions that affect the lives of all people. They define the scope of human rights and decide who will be held accountable for what kind of international crimes. The democratic credientials of these institutions is therefore essential, and they need to be representative of the people as a whole. In this respect, a precondition for judicial representativeness is gender diversity and more specifically the equal representation of both women and men on judiciary benches. In addition, equal representation of men and women in all levels and areas is a key principle of democratic societies.

[1Women and men in decision-making 2007. Analysis of the situation and trends, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, European Commission

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