Several recent high-profile elections such as Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as Chair of the African Union, Christine Lagarde as Managing Director of the IMF, Fatou Bensouda as Chief Prosecutor at the ICC as well as Margaret Chan at at the World Health Organisation, Irina Bokova at UNESCO and the candidacy of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the World Bank, suggests progress has been made in the participation of women within some of world’s global organisations. Indeed, the appointment of such high-profile women to these leadership positions is to be welcomed however it should not mask the serious gender imbalances present in most, if not all, international organisations particularly with regard to the development of international law. The relatively recent election and appointment of women to such positions and their relative small numbers underlie the distances that still need to be travelled before even a modicum of equility is achieved. The Director General of the International Labour Organisation, the Director General of the WTO, the President of the World Bank, the United Nations Secretary General, the President of the General Assembly, the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Director-General the International Atomic Agency, the Executive Director of UNICEF, the Commonwealth Secretary General, the President of the Council of Europe, are not only all men but most of these offices have only ever been held by males.
It was not until 1995 that Rosalyn Higgins became was the first permanent female member and subsequent President of the International Court of Justice. Prof. Suzanne Bastid was the first judge ad hoc in Continental Shelf (Tunisia/Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) Case in 1982 and was also the first female Chair in International Law in France, and possibly anywhere, in 1946. The Court and its predecessor, the Permanent Court of Justice have been in operation since 1922 and it was a very long time indeed before the fifteen person Court had any female representation. There are currently three female members of the Court, Judge Julia Sebutinde recently joined Judge Judge Xue Hanqin and Judge Joan Donoghue on the Court bringing the percentage of permanent female representation to just 20%. In contrast, the International Criminal Court’s balance is actually in favour of women with ten of the eighteen judges being women. Critically, this suggests that expertise and seniority is readily available within international law to fill these senior judicial offices. Indeed as the ICJ is a Court of general jurisdiction while the ICC is specifically limited to criminal and humanitarian law, the pool of choice should therefore be much smaller. The inclusion of Article 36 (8) (a) 3 in the ICC Statute requiring, ‘a fair representation of female and male judges’ appears to be the decisive difference in this instance of judicial appointments. While this article of the Rome Statute does not require a specific quota of women it appears to have pushed states into considering their field of nominees from a broader base resulting in the current majority of women, from a narrower range of expertise within international law, on the Court, than on the ICJ.
The International Law Commission, a UN Body which aims to promote ’the progressive development of international law and its codification’ was an all male-body until 2002 and there are currently only two women serving on the 34 person Commission. Prof. Paula Escarameia and Judge Xue Hanqin, now at the ICJ, were appointed to the ILC in 2002 and they were followed by Marie G. Jacobsson in 2007 and Concepción Escobar Hernández in 2011. This is a wholly woeful representation on a body which has been critical in the production of some of the core texts within international law such as the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Treaty on Law of the Sea and the Draft Articles on State Responsibility amongst other important work. As with the ICJ, a lack of seniority or expertise cannot be a justification for this lack of female representation on the body whose influence on the development of international law is enormous. In developing such basic elements of international law by an entirely male body, even if states subsequently ratify the treaties or the General Assembly passes resolutions in their support, the male-domination of international law is continued and re-inforced. A high number of positions on the International Law Commission come from within academia and certainly there is expertise available from both sexes therein. Therefore, the limitation to two women seems at odds with the wide choice of expertise available. Though this is not suggest that academia does not itself have gender imbalances.
While the UN and other global bodies increasingly have, at least notionally, made attempts at gender mainstreaming within the policies of their organisations this has not necessarily translated into the internal workings of these organisations. This juxtaposition between policies which they seek to enforce within states and their own internal operations remains extraordinarily wide. States, which are involved in the election of the most senior officers, also bear some responsibility but these organisations own structures also need consideration and reform if women are to, at the very least, be present in these important international fora.