From Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai to Golda Meir and Corazon Aquino, women activists and political leaders have led the fight for gender equality and human rights around the world over the past century.
But as the tributes keep pouring in for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Sept. 18 at the age of 87, we are reminded of the particular importance of sealing progress in the courts — and the judges and lawyers making it possible.
While a recent OECD study shows that 54% of judges are women in developed countries, it also pointed to a lack of women in top-ranking judicial positions, making profiles like RBG all the more outstanding. From Brazil to France to Malaysia, here are six exceptional women who, like RBG, have made a lasting impact in the courtroom:
Gisèle Halimi (Tunisia/France): Less than 2 months before Ginsburg's passing, women's rights in France mourned one of its fiercest advocates. Tunisian-born Gisèle Halimi, a renowned lawyer, author and Member of French Parliament, dedicated her life to gender equality, changing a male-centric judicial system to protect women and their rights over their own body, as recalls Le Monde in her obituary.
• In 1972, during what is now known as the Bobigny trials, she defended a 17-year-old student accused of having an abortion after being raped, along with her mother and three of her colleagues who helped terminate the pregnancy. Thanks to Halimi, the victim and two of the accused were dismissed. The verdict later played a part in the adoption of the Veil Law, legalizing abortion, in 1975.
• In 1978, she defended in two victims of a gang rape. The case attracted significant media attention, and her defense strategy contributed to a clear legal definition of rape, officially criminalizing it in 1980.
Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat (Malaysia): In May 2019, Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat made history when she became the country's first female Chief Justice, reports Malay Mail.
• The 61-year-old mother of four boasts a long legal and judicial career. As a Court of Appeal judge, and then a Federal Court judge, she has presided over multiple high-profile cases.
• Seen as a progressive judge, women's rights groups hope her appointment will help to tackle the issue of lower prosecutions in rape and domestic violence cases and bring "more justice to women."
• Her nomination, according to Free Malaysia Today, came as 2019 marked a milestone for women judges in Malaysia, many of whom were appointed to top positions.
Lady Brenda Hale (UK): Appointed as the first female Law Lord in 2004 (becoming Baroness Hale of Richmond), Lady Brenda Hale was named the Supreme Court's first female president five years later.
• In 1984, she was the first woman to be appointed to the Law Commission, where she took part in the groundbreaking Children Act of 1989. The reform obliges government and public entities to place a child's "best interests' at the center of their decision making.
• In 2011, as the leading judge in Yemshaw v. LB Hounslow, Lady Hale participated in redefining "domestic violence" to include verbal and psychological abuse, no longer limiting it to physical assault, reports Family Law Week.
Sudha Bharadwaj (India): Law was not this mathematics student's first love, but after seeing the working conditions of certain minorities in India, Sudha Bharadwaj's pursuit of justice, as described by an editor of The Wire, led her to obtain a late law degree.
• Before becoming a lawyer, she joined the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) as general secretary of the Chhattisgarh branch. She was also a member of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha labor party, where she fought corruption among bureaucrats and pushed for fair wages.
• In 2005, Bharadwaj started working in the High Court of Chhattisgarh. Her cases mainly targeted big corporate groups exploiting the Adivasis, an indigenous people, and ruining the environment. She talks more about this particular commitment in an interview on the Socialist Project.
• In 2018, Bharadwaj was arrested along with four other Human Rights Defenders following a TV program claiming they had a link to Maoists. Her arrest was highly criticized as a government move to silence her, and she has been denied bail multiple times by several courts (including the Supreme Court).
Joênia Wapixana (Brazil): Joênia Wapixana became Brazil's first indigenous female lawyer in 1997 and the country's first indigenous congresswoman in 2018, reports O Globo.
• A member of the Wapixana tribe in northern Brazil, she was the first indigenous lawyer to win a case before the country's Supreme Court. The case defined the boundaries of the indigenous territory Raposa Serra do Sol and ended violence against indigenous people who refused to cede their lands to agribusinesses.
• Her role as an activist defending the rights of indigenous people led her to win the 2018 United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights.
• Following the dam disaster in Brumadinho, she presented her first bill proposal as a congresswoman, which aimed at legally designating environmental crimes as "heinous crimes," which would subject them to more severe penalties.
Arwa Al-Hujaili (Saudia Arabia): There are, of course, some countries that have a particularly long way to go in terms of gender parity. But even women continue to hold court, wherever they may be — like Arwa Al-Hujaili, who became Saudi Arabia's first woman trainee lawyer in 2013.
• Al-Hujaili was only 22 when she graduated from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah in 2010. Yet she would have to wait another three years to be able to practice as a lawyer, which is certainly not the case for men who follow the same educational path. She spent those years working as a "legal consultant", receiving no recognition as a lawyer.
• But Al-Hujaili did not take no for an answer, tirelessly petitioning the Ministry of Justice. On April 8, 2013, The ministry licensed Al-Hujaili as a legal trainee, allowing her to finally practice law. After a three-year apprenticeship, she became a fully licensed lawyer.
As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.
BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.
Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.
What will Aukus mean for NATO?
Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.
Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.
The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting
Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.
"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."
Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum
Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.
Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.
But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.
Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.
Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris
Erdogan’s EU wish list
It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.
Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.
Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU
Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.
Turkey's second largest export market
The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.
At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."
After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.
Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.
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