Gender equality activists in Namibia are celebrating a significant milestone as the country’s supreme court welcomes its first-ever female justices. The appointment of three women to the highest court has been hailed as a breakthrough, marking a pivotal moment for gender equality.
Ruth Herunga, the chairperson of the Namibia Women Lawyers Association, expressed her enthusiasm for this long-awaited achievement. Herunga highlighted that this groundbreaking development shattered the glass ceiling, emphasizing the need to recognize the invaluable contributions of women judges worldwide in promoting equality and democracy.
Although women have made strides in acquiring positions of political power, the representation of women in top judicial roles remains inadequate across many African nations. Herunga emphasized that the appointment of three female judges positions Namibia among the ranks of countries worldwide that have recently appointed women judges to their highest courts.
Yvonne Dausab, the Minister of Justice, welcomed the appointments but underscored the necessity for further progress in terms of gender representation within the judiciary. Dausab noted that the top-tier leadership of both the Supreme Court and the High Court still predominantly comprises men. To ensure public confidence in the legal system, Dausab stressed the importance of a diverse bench that reflects the demographics and perspectives of the people it serves.
This landmark achievement comes after an all-male bench in Namibia’s Supreme Court recently overturned a High Court judgment in favour of a same-sex couple seeking citizenship for their child born through surrogacy in South Africa. However, the newly appointed Supreme Court justices, Esi Shimming-Chase and Johanna Prinsloo from the High Court of Namibia, alongside Zimbabwean Constitutional Court Judge Rita Makarau, are expected to bring a fresh perspective to future rulings.
While these appointments have been met with praise, there have been concerns raised by opposition parties in Namibia regarding Rita Makarau’s appointment due to her perceived closeness to Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party. The opposition accuses Makarau of involvement in alleged election rigging in Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, female activists argue that questioning her fitness for the bench based on these allegations reflects a double standard, asserting that if she were a man, her qualifications would not have been challenged.
Ndilimeke Auala of the Namibia Institute for Democracy emphasized that these appointments would play a crucial role in ensuring a balanced and fair decision-making process within the Supreme Court. Auala called for equal standards to be applied to all judges, irrespective of gender, focusing on their commitment to defending the rights of marginalized communities and speaking truth to power. Auala expressed optimism that the newly appointed female justices would influence policy changes that would contribute to the creation of a more equitable society.
Namibia’s legal system permits judges from other jurisdictions, including Zimbabwe, to serve in its high courts and Supreme Court. This practice is also common among other countries in the Southern African Development Community, such as South Africa and Zimbabwe, which allows legal practitioners to work across borders as long as they are registered.
With these significant appointments, Namibia takes a significant stride toward achieving gender parity within its judiciary, signalling a positive step forward for gender equality in the country and the region.