Constitutional Courts in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa: Where are We in Terms of Parity?

 

During the last decades, women have achieved substantial progress in women rights and specifically have advanced in the goal of gender equality in politics and the public sector around the world. While women still struggle to be treated fairly in the judicial system, it is interesting to analyze the reality of women’s representation in the high courts and the factors that affect this representation.

Globally, constitutional courts protect citizens’ basic rights and uphold the constitution. According to our Global Women’s Leadership Initiative Index, women representation in constitutional courts is far from gender parity with a world average representation of 24.02%1 . Latin America and the Caribbean presented the best score by region (37.23%), higher than the world average and regions like Europe and Central Asia (27.37%), and East Asia and Pacific (17.78%). Latin America and The Caribbean also has a higher percentage of women represented in these courts than the OECD countries (27.41%).

Guyana has the highest female representation in constitutional courts in the world. In 2018, all the three members of Guyana’s Court of Appeal were women. In the Latin America and Caribbean region, Ecuador and Paraguay place second with women holding two-thirds (66.67%) of positions in their constitutional courts. Most countries in the region had at least one woman in their constitutional court except for El Salvador, where none of its five constitutional court judges was a female in 2018.

Figure 2

Women’s representation on constitutional courts in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, is 23.95% , lower than the world average (24.02%) but higher than regions such as South Asia (8.13%) and the Middle East and North Africa (6.54%). The African countries with the highest women representation in constitutional courts are Sierra Leone (60%) and Rwanda (57.14%). Countries such as South Sudan, Namibia, Mauritania, Comoros, Republic Democratic of Congo, and Sudan have no women judges in their constitutional courts.

Figure 3

What influences female representation in high courts?

Only few studies deal with female representation in higher courts and its effect on judicial decisions. On one side, factors that may increase female representation in higher courts include the number of seats2 , the commitment of civil society and gatekeepers to propose women to the higher judicial position, the end of wars, and regional diffusion of women leadership3 . Interestingly, there is no correlation between women’s participation in the legislative branch and women’s representation in the judicial brand4.

Why female representation in high courts matters?

We need courts to look like the people they rule over in order to raise confidence in the judicial system and its legitimacy. Further, judges that are representative of the people are better able to make decisions that are well informed and thus driving up legitimacy and quality of justice. Achieving this requires a careful analysis of processes and policies of selecting judges, as in many countries the people themselves do not select or vote for their judges. On a final note, while having more women in high courts does not guarantee that they will stand for women’s rights, it does make this case more plausible.

 


  1. World Bank. Women, Business and Law 2018. Data retrieved from https://wbl.worldbank.org/en/reports
  2. Williams, M. S., and Thames, F. C. (2008). Women's representation on high courts in advanced industrialized countries. Politics and Gender, 4(3), 451-471.
  3. Dawuni, J., and Kang, A. (2015). Her ladyship chief justice: the rise of female leaders in the judiciary in Africa. Africa Today, 62(2), 45-69.
  4. Escobar-Lemmon, Maria and Michelle Taylor-Robinson. 2005. “Women Ministers in Latin American Government: When, Where, and Why?” American Journal of Political Science 49(4 October):829-844