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Women in the Judiciary in the Arab States: Removing Barriers, Increasing Numbers

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Women’s right to participate fully and equally in all aspects of public life, including the judiciary, is a fundamental human right. There is a large body of evidence that women’s presence in the judiciary is a catalyst for the development of strong, independent, accessible and gender-sensitive judicial institutions and, more broadly, the achievement of gender justice within society. In recent years, Arab countries have taken steps to appoint an increasing number of female judges and public prosecutors – for the first time in some countries. Despite these efforts, however, women remain starkly underrepresented in judicial institutions in the region, with strong disparities between and within countries.

This study, produced by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in partnership with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa, sheds light on women’s presence in judicial institutions in the region. The study reveals that despite some progress, women’s presence in judicial remains far from parity in most Arab countries.  There are also clear gender disparities within national judicial systems. In all Arab countries, there are far fewer women serving in higher courts than in lower ones. Female judges are more likely to work in civil rather than criminal or military courts and in urban rather than rural areas. With only few exceptions, female judges do not sit on religious courts. 

These disparities result from enduring barriers to women’s presence in the judiciary, which are analyzed in the study. To remove these barriers, the study presents good practices based on case studies conducted in five Arab countries that have achieved a comparably higher presence of women in judicial institutions. The study then offers a series of policy recommendations to enhance women’s presence in the judiciary, targeting an audience of policymakers, international bodies and civil society.