by Magdalini Bakali
“Fight for the things that you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you” is a quote by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that was repeated a few times during the webinar hosted by the Washington University College of Law in October 1 st 2020, where four women
judges from around the world discussed the late RBG’s legacy.
Four inspiring women judges who themselves have been inspired by Justice Ginsburg’s work and convictions gave some powerful and inspiring presentations and though-provoking answers to the audience’s questions.
Rt Hon. The Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond DBE who was the first woman to serve as president of the Supreme Court of the UK was one of the honorable speakers. Justice Hale urged young women in justice to believe in themselves and drawing from her own experiences
and mistakes she shared the following piece of advice “Fight the battles that you can win.”
Hon. Justice Hannah Okwengu (Court of Appeal of Kenya) while offering her own remarks agreed with Justice Ginsburg’s step by step approach since, she also believes that social change that takes time is required. She shared that in Kenya most lower bench justices are female and in a higher courts there is an almost equal ratio of male and female representation. She argued that merit-based approach on the hiring of justices is what brought this result. The question she posed was “how do we get women to get to bigger positions and how do we get them to stay”. Justice Okwengu stated that RBG stood out and therefore visibility is what women need in the field of law to achieve equal representation. Her advice to younger women was to find a “sister” in the field and join international associations for female professionals in the field of law.
Hon. Judge Alexandra Preschal (Court of Justice for the European Union) brought up points that she knew Justice Ginsburg cared about and followed the foreign law developments. Gender equality, gendered based violence and domestic violence are these issues and Justice Preschal confirmed that there is a backlash within the EU when it comes to the protection of women. Justice Preschal said that one of her serious concerns is the consideration of certain EU members to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. She explained that despite the important steps that have been taken towards gender equality, such as the maternity leave policies that within the EU are quite long there is sill a lot of work to be done to achieve equality. Among other factor that slow down legal developments towards gender equality, Justice Preschal said, is the difficulty of the notion of gender to be translated and understood by different cultures within the EU.
Hon. Judge Flavia Viana (Court of Justice of the State of Parana, Brazil)
Justice Flavia Viana has been inspired by RBG’s example and has been following her advice to get others to join her in the fight for the things she cares about. In Brazil, she said drawing statistics from Brazil’s national statistics association less than 17% of justices in higher courts are female. She herself is very active and she announced that she has recently become an organizer for a national committee of female justices aiming on coming up with ways to increase the gender balance within the judiciary. Justice Flavia Viana is a big admirer of Justice Ginsburg and to underline RBG’s influence within and outside the US she shared that after two films on RBG’s life were released, more female judges in Brazil were organized into groups and associations. Justice Flavia Viana stated her conviction that a judiciary has to be representative of society because it strengthens the law and people’s trust in the law and legal system.