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Delegates on a panel at the Commonwealth Women's Affairs Meeting

'Enshrine equal rights for women in law’ senior judges tell leaders

19 September 2019

Senior judges and officials have urged leaders to work with judiciary and the civil society to remove discriminatory gender laws and introduce equal rights in the legal system. 

They gathered in Nairobi, Kenya for a panel discussion hosted on the margins of the 12th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting.

Speaking at the event, Justice Martha Koome, Kenya’s Court of Appeal, said: “Gender equality is the fundamental right. It is not just a principle of law but it is also a principle of development, be it social, economic or political.”

Ahead of the event, the Commonwealth presented a strategy, Equality in Law for Women and Girls by 2030: A Multi-Stakeholder Strategy for Accelerated Action, to senior officials for women’s affairs.

The strategy will fast-track full legal protection for 50 million women and girls in 100 countries from 2019 to 2023 in all aspects of constitutional, civil, criminal, labour and administrative laws.

Kenya’s Justice Mumbi Ngugi encouraged the judiciary to point out discriminatory laws and hold institutions accountable when not executing their mandate to level the law.

Judges identified common discriminatory laws that hinder women’s progress such as unequal pay, the devaluation of women’s testimony and the right to choose who and when they marry. 

Princilla Schwartz, the first female Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to be appointed in Sierra Leone, presented progressive laws that could inspire other countries.

She said: “Sierra Leone enacted legislative frameworks to address the gaps in the aftermath of the armed conflict. 

“Frameworks involved special measures such as courts sitting on every Saturday to handle cases of violence against women and the government providing free education for girls.”

Discussions stressed the need for setting a minimum age of marriage, ending gender discrimination in nationality laws, addressing discriminatory rape laws and promoting equality in family relations.

The Commonwealth’s legal adviser for the rule of law, Elizabeth Bakibinga, said: “This event provided an opportunity for stakeholders to explore synergies between the key actors in society and facilitate dialogue on how cultural norms, community dialogue and judicial intervention can be harnessed to support non-discriminatory legislation and gender justice.”

The event, Levelling the Law – A Multi-Sectoral Approach to Eliminating Gender Discriminatory Legislation in the Commonwealth, was hosted by the Commonwealth on 18 September. 

Findings of the discussions will be presented to the Commonwealth ministers for women’s affairs on Friday.

Learn more about the Commonwealth Women's Affairs Ministers Meeting