Lack of women judges causes concern

Although government has made strides in appointing women to positions of authority in the civil service this has not been applied to the judiciary. Since the retirement of former judge Unity Dow last year, there has been no woman serving on the bench.

President Ian Khama did not appoint any member of the fairer sex during his recent appointment of new judges even though Mmegi has learnt that at least one woman submitted her application. Dow was the first woman to serve as a judge in the country.  She was later joined by Dr Athaliah Molokomme who has since left the bench to take up the powerful postion of Attorney General. A Gaborone lawyer, who preferred anonymity, said this was a disturbing development.   She revealed that a female attorney who had applied for the recently filled posts of judges was overlooked.

She said the woman has demonstrated outstanding ability not only in private practice.  "I feel she was qualified even more than some people who have been appointed.  If you look at her experience, she could have been a better candidate," she said.  She added that some of the recently appointed judges were people from the corporate world, while others were academics without the hands on experience.

"You should wonder why the appointing authorities did not go out of their way to appoint this woman," she questioned.   She added that next time the appointing authorities should apply their minds to the issue of gender balance. She said the issue of gender balance does not seem to have been taken into consideration in the judiciary.  "Women with abilities should have made it to the bench." The attorney said it was a high point for women when Dow was appointed as the first woman judge in the country. However, she said, since then women have been overlooked when it comes to the appointment of judges. She said at present there are two local women serving as judges in other countries.  She noted that the two women were always overlooked when such appointments were made locally.  But the international community recognised their abilities. The chairperson of the Botswana Law Society, Tebogo Sebego said this is a cause for concern.  "I find it a challenge on our women counterparts in this profession," he said.  He added that the challenge is for them to have an interest in taking up such positions. 

Sebego asserted that there are quite a number of women attorneys who qualify to be judges.  He added that there are capable women candidates, both in private practice and the public sector.  "I think we have a good pool.  Look at people like Doreen Khama and many others," he said.   He said a Motswana woman lawyer Sanji Monageng has made it as a judge at the International Court of Justice. He added that even Dow was doing an excellent job when she was a judge.  He does not see any reason why women should be left out.

Sebego said there has to be some kind of affirmative action to bring a balance.   He said there should be a deliberate effort by the government to ensure this.  The law society official said they are going to encourage their women members to apply for the posts of judges.  This is one of the issues that they are going to look at this year. 

The secretary of the Judicial Commission, Godfrey Nthomiwa was not available for comment. The appointment of judges is made by the president after recommendations by the Judicial Commission.

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