From 18 and 19 October 2019, the ICJ, in collaboration with UN Women and the Federal Court of Malaysia, convened the 2019 Southeast Asia Regional Judicial Dialogue in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The judges from Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Timor-Leste discussed how to apply the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and other international legal instruments in their work at the domestic level to eliminate the negative impact of stereotyping and gender bias in the judiciary.
“We need to ensure that CEDAW and international human rights obligations are fully applied by national authorities, and not just taken as aspiration or long-term goal,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
“These standards need to have the force of law and made real, in workplace and in domestic settings, to ensure that women are free from violence and that there is access to justice when violence does occur.”
The judicial dialogue was opened by Malaysia’s first female Chief Justice, The Right Honourable Tan Sri Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat. The Chief Justice emphasized during her keynote speech the need for regular capacity strengthening initiatives for judges to be aware of gender-related issues. She emphasized further that “Judicial stereotyping can undermine the ability of women to exercise and enforce other rights guaranteed by law.”
This message was echoed by Carla Silbert of UN Women who said: “We see that women are often impacted disproportionately and thus judges should uphold women’s rights as human rights. It is a crucial role for the court to deliver justice with gender sensitivity.”
ICJ Commissioner Dato Ambiga Sreenavasan and the Ambassador of Sweden to Malaysia, Dag Juhlin-Dannfelt addressed the ongoing reforms in Malaysia and gender equality.
“Malaysia has its first female Chief Justice and has shown a remarkable growth of female leaders in influential positions. However, the participation of women in the labor workforce is still very low and it remains a challenge for us,” said Dato Ambiga Sreenavasan, Commissioner of the ICJ.
“The drive for democracy is to support and strengthen gender equality and the rule of law,” said Ambassador Dag Juhlin-Dannfelt. “ICJ’s Bangkok General Guidance for Judges on Applying a Gender Perspective in Southeast Asia is an important tool to address gender equality in judiciary.”
The dialogue included discussion on the topics of equality & non-discrimination, access to justice under international human rights law, gender stereotyping and gender discriminatory practices in cases involving women who are victims of trafficking.
Many participating judges said that they would be applying in their judicial work the tools introduced to them in the dialogue, including the Bangkok General Guidance. These could be used in decision-making, assessing evidence presented before them, and handling witnesses in their courts. Some also said that they plan to disseminate the information and tools to their colleagues in the judiciary.
Boram Jang, International Legal Adviser, Asia & the Pacific Programme, e: boram.jang(a)icj.org
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