By Jessica Odudu
The globe is being reminded to recognize the contributions made by women to all parts and sectors of society during this week dedicated to women. By commemorating it, the international community is inspiring each of us to consider how the progress gained by women to advance gender parity might be further realized. The International Day of Women Judges, proposed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to recognize the achievements of women in the judiciary, follows closely on the heels of International Women’s Day. This day has been set aside to encourage the full and equal participation of women at all levels of the judiciary as well as to recognize and emphasize the importance of women’s involvement in the justice system for long-term growth.
This year, the theme of the celebration is “WOMEN IN JUSTICE, WOMEN FOR JUSTICE” and we are taking time out to give an overview of the number of women in the Nigerian Judiciary. As the third arm of government, the judiciary plays an important role in maintaining the health of a nation’s democracy. Yet, women have historically been underrepresented in the court, especially at high lead levels. Is this the case in Nigeria? If it is, what needs to be done about it?
Data from the National Judicial Council of Nigeria in 2022, shows that women in the superior courts of record (which includes the Supreme court, Court of appeal, Federal High Court, and National Industrial Court) totaled 66 in comparison to their male counterparts numbered 142.
In the state court (comprising the state high courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of appeal) female judges numbered 288 out of a total of 914 judicial officers. The gender disparity is not as prominent as in other governmental arms like the Nigerian National assembly where women make up only 6%.
Globally, there has been a marked increase in the number of females entering the legal profession. Legal Features most recently put the number of females in undergraduate law courses at 69%. According to the “The number of female applications for law courses rose 41% in the decade to 2021, compared to just 2% for men”. Tunnelling down to Nigeria, data from the Council for Legal Education shows that out of 5,960 students registered in the 2017/18 session, 2,986 of them are female. 50.1% of law students in that academic session are females and the number seems to be on a rise yearly.
History has shown how female judges have contributed immensely to the development of legal jurisprudence and the further of gender rights in society. Emily Murphy for example was the first female Magistrate in Canada who contributed to Canadian feminism specifically to the question of if females were regarded as “Persons” under the law in the early 90s. Most recently, Late Ruth Badar Ginsburg an associate Supreme court judge who has been lauded as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights won many arguments before the Supreme Court.
The United Nations has said in recent reports that “at the current rate of progress, it will take up to 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws”. More needs to be done to ensure that women’s representation is improved and the judiciary plays an integral role in ensuring this dream of Gender equality and equity become reality.
The rise in the number of women studying law indicates that women are willing to take decisive, deliberate action, and this will should be capitalized upon by all parties involved to ensure that young female aspirants to the bar can advance in their careers and contribute to global development. To investigate the underlying factors that contribute to the low representation of women in the Nigerian judiciary, governments can invest in affirmative action programs like quota schemes and research.