On Tuesday March 8, a special conference took place titled ‘Women in Key Leadership Positions in the Field of Law ; Global Perspectives ’. The event was organized to mark International Women’s Day and was initiated by the Embassy of Israel. The purpose of the event was for women who are considered to be part of the top ranks of international justice to discuss and reflect upon common issues that transcend boundaries.
The panelists were Fatou Bensouda, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Judge Joan Donoghue of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Professor Maria Teresa Infante Caffi, Ambassador of Chile in The Netherlands, Professor Liesbeth Lijnzaad, a legal advisor at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Judge Dorit Beinisch, former President of the Supreme Court of Israel.
The panel was moderated by Corinne Dettmeijer – Vermeulen, Dutch rapporteur on trafficking in human rights and sexual violence against children.
The audience consisted of approximately a hundred people, mostly women, who were given the rare opportunity to hear and learn from the experiences of these very prominent women in the international legal profession in The Hague.
Much of the discussion focused on professional and personal intertwining and examine how much of the personal experiences find their way in to the professional life.
Are women more inclined to put gender issues on the table? In what way does being a women influence the decision-making process? Even though no straightforward answer was given to this question, it was indicated by the panelists that the female approach is often different from their male colleagues. Most the panelists started working in the legal profession during a time when there weren’t many women working as international lawyers.
When dealing with a case, Ambassador Infante Caffi explained that her approach was to present her counterpart an attitude in which she understood the position of the other, while also expressing clearly the basis of her own position. Ambassador Infante Caffi did emphasize that even though this might not necessarily have to do with the fact that she is a woman, but that this was her personal approach and that it did prove to be different from many of her male colleagues.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda discussed how being a woman motivated her in getting in to the legal profession. From an early age, she witnessed many injustices that women faced, even in the courtroom and within the legal system. This led to her wanting to make a difference and bringing women closer to the law, to encourage women to do the same and to help improve the position of women in society by using the law as a tool.
Throughout the discussion it became clear that in different societies and cultures, women lead different lives and have, as a result, different prospects and possibilities.
Professor Liesbeth Lijnzaad stressed the importance that we need to examine and be aware of the gender bias in the law and the ways in which the law shapes the narratives of women in society.
What most of the women on the panel had in common was that they all came from backgrounds where they were, from an early age on, supported and encouraged by their parents to study and become anything they wanted to become. Having support and getting encouragement from your environment can be considered a key component in their legal career.
When offering advice to a younger generation of students and practitioners of international law, all panelists agreed that is vital to dedicate and commit yourself completely to the subject and to never give up.
An important point of discussion was raised by Fatou Bensouda with regards to the importance of women in leading positions in international law. She explained that many of the cases that tribunals and international courts have to deal with are dominated by the subject of sexual violence against women. This issue still dominates international conflicts and is not going away. She explained that it is time for all of us to deal with it in the most effective way and being a woman can certainly help to relate better to the abuses that women are facing in conflict situations. As women, we must be there and support our fellow women.
In the end, the women in the panel agreed that women have made enormous achievements over the last decades but there is still a long road ahead before equal rights and opportunities for women are respected and visible in the top sector of international law.
Interestingly, two days after this panel discussion took place, the International Criminal Court (ICC) appointed its’ first female President and in addition, also appointed two female Vice-Presidents. It is clear that the position of women in international law is changing for the better but from the many challenges that women still face today, we must never take this for granted and continue to strive for a more balanced composition of judges and prosecutors in our international legal institutions.