Women profiles: Kalthoum Kennou

The ICJ ends its series of profiles of its women Commissioners with an interview with Judge Kalthoum Kennou is currently serving her second term as ICJ Commissioner.

Kalthoum Kennou is a Judge of the Tunisian Cassation Court.

She previously served as an investigating Judge at the Tribunal of Tozeur in Tunisia (2010 – 2012), an investigating Judge at the Tribunal of Kairouan (2005 – 2010) and a Judge at the Court of Appeal of Tunis (2001-2005).

She is a strong advocate of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Tunisia, and for women’s rights.

She was active in opposition to the dictatorship of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

As a consequence of her work, she was subjected to politically motivated personal attacks including arbitrary transfers to remote parts of the country.

After the political revolution in January 2011, she became President of the Association of Tunisian Judges.

She has worked on the new Tunisian Constitution and was the first female candidate in the November 2014 Presidential elections.

In this interview, Judge Kennou speaks about the reasons that prompted her to take up a legal career.

Her father was wrongly accused of high treason and imprisoned and she wanted to show people that there could be fair judges who worked independently.

On his release, her father also supported her decision to study the law.

She was appointed a judge in 1989 but said that other women had been appointed before her so it was not that difficult.

The main problems were that male judges were reluctant to discuss certain issues in front of her and she had to stand up for herself.

“However what was a bit troublesome was with the police when I gave them instructions and I think they would have preferred it was a man and not a woman. But I stood up for myself and I became an investigating judge and I was there to give orders to the police, to the clerk of court, as a judge and as a woman judge.”

Under the dictatorship of Ben Ali, she explains in the interview that there were a quite an important number of judges who resisted and defended the independence of the judiciary.

“… I think our resistance had some results. The proof was that just after the revolution, the question of the independence of the judiciary became a demand of the people, not just the judiciary.”

She explains in the interview that now 43% of the judiciary in Tunisia are women.

This is because there are more women studying law, more women than men, and because the government is promoting women’s equality.

However, many women may take up a legal career without wishing to become a judge.

This is because of family reasons, as they don’t wish to be appointed to a court away from home and in some families, parents might feel that women should be protected from some of the real problems of society.

“But actually I think this kind of thinking is less common now and will disappear bit by bit. Judges have shown that they can have an impact and society accepts female judges more than male judges. They consider that female judges are less corrupt, that they are more serious and are making more efforts to deliver justice.”

The main problems for women in accessing justice in Tunisia are related to pressure from the family not to file complaint in cases of domestic violence.

Also there is a problem with the attitudes of the police who do not take physical aggression against a woman seriously.

The third issue is the mentality of some judges, including some women judges, who are not really convinced that a husband does not have the right to beat his wife.

“The law exists but we should also work on people’s mentalities so that the law is correctly applied.”

Judge Kennou concludes the interview with some advice for young women considering a legal career. She said that a young woman must learn to “stand up for herself and for her rights at home because you cannot be free, you cannot give to others, if your own rights are not realized… I think that a woman who wants to be a judge should be really convinced and well trained about human rights so she can apply the law in a correct manner. “

Watch the interview:

The series of profiles introducing the work of ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members on women’s rights was launched on 25 November 2016 to coincide with the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women and the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.

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