Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement with International Law
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Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement with International Law

Edited by Susan Harris Rimmer and Kate Ogg

For almost 30 years, scholars and advocates have been exploring the interaction and potential between the rights and well-being of women and the promise of international law. This collection posits that the next frontier for international law is increasing its relevance, beneficence and impact for women in the developing world, and to deal with a much wider range of issues through a feminist lens.
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Chapter 26: Matri-legal feminism: an African feminist response to international law

Josephine Jarpa Dawuni


This chapter is a response to the challenge by Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright to the effect that “research is needed to question the assumptions of neutrality and universal applicability of norms of international law and to expose the invisibility of women and their experiences in discussions about the law.” The chapter adds to existing scholarship on feminist legal theory by exposing the “invisibility” of one particular set of women and their experiences in international law – that of African women judges. Feminist scholars concerned with questions of gender and judging have interrogated the lack of women as judges on international and supranational regional courts. Notwithstanding this growing corpus of knowledge on women judges in international law, one area that has received less scholarly attention is the growing numbers of African women judges on international courts. These developments require scholarly interrogation. Using the case of African women judges, this chapter provides empirical evidence that demonstrates how women judges from Africa are playing critical roles and contributing in diverse ways to international law. Within the last decade, there has been a steady growth in the number of African women serving on international tribunals as judges. At the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Judge Julia Sebutinde of Uganda is currently one of three female judges sitting on the 15-member panel of the court. To date, seven African women have served as judges on the International Criminal Court (ICC). As a total of all women serving from any given region of the world, the Africa group leads. In 2017, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR) made history with the election of two more women, bringing the gender distribution of the court to five women, six men – a first in the history of the court. The chapter draws on existing scholarship on feminist theories of international law in advocating for the relevance of women in international law. It then uses postcolonial feminist theory as a basis for highlighting the context from which we can begin to gain a deeper understanding of the role of African women as important players in international law. The chapter contributes to existing scholarship by developing matri-legal feminism as a new theoretical framework for understanding and evaluating African woman judges through their roles as critical actors in gender and international law at the regional and international levels. The chapter concludes by highlighting areas of further research on African women judges in international law.

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