akzente-frauen-inspirieren-hero.jpg Ekaterina Anisimova/, 3st kommunikation

‘Inspiring women’

The women presidents of the three regional human rights courts in an akzente interview: Imani Daud Aboud from Africa, Nancy Hernández López from the Americas and Síofra O’Leary from Europe on women in the judiciary, role models and cooperation across continents

Interview: Brigitte Spitz

What significance does the appointment of women to the leadership positions of all three regional human rights courts hold for you?

Síofra O’Leary: This sends out a strong message to women and girls across our different continents. It shows that breaking the judicial glass ceiling takes time but is possible. I am the 16th President of the European Court and its first female President since its establishment in 1959. A human rights court needs to reflect the society which it serves, and it was not tenable to continue a long and unbroken line of male Presidents. The inclusion of women on the bench and their involvement in positions of judicial leadership do matter. We need to ensure the legitimacy of the judiciary in the eyes of the public and also to improve the quality of judgments through the benefit of a broader range of lived experiences.

Imani Daud Aboud: This development signifies a momentous shift towards inclusivity and the dismantling of long-standing gender barriers in the legal and human rights fields. It conveys a clear message that women are not only participants in the fight for human rights but are also leaders shaping the course of justice and human rights advocacy. This represents a beacon of hope and a model for institutions worldwide, reinforcing the importance of diversity and gender parity at all levels of leadership.

Nancy Hernández López: But it must not remain an isolated case. We are facing a transcendental historical moment, but it still remains the exception (and not the rule) for women to reach leadership and decision-making positions in the judiciary, despite significant progress at the national, regional and international levels. However, it also gives us a responsibility to ensure that this milestone is not an isolated event. We must work for the continued presence and participation of women in these spaces. My commitment is to work tirelessly to maintain and strengthen this positive trend, creating a legacy that will inspire future generations of women to achieve their goals in the legal field.

Imani Daud Aboud African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Imani Daud Aboud

Nancy Hernández López CorteIDH

Nancy Hernández López

That is in line with the theme of International Women’s Day 2024: ‘Inspire Inclusion’. Is being a role model important to you all?

O’Leary: While being in the limelight may not always be a comfortable place to be, I realise that my current position, which is a unique and highly visible one, may inspire younger women who are thinking about a career in law or in multilateral and supranational organisations like the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Hernández: It is my responsibility as a female leader to make my story visible. To highlight the heterogeneity of women and how representation does matter. Today, I am in this position, but I hope that tomorrow women with stories of struggle that are different to mine will also occupy such positions and that we can all enrich the various spaces in society for the professional and personal growth of women from different generations. I hope that the next generation does not just crack the glass ceiling but shatters it, resulting in a more democratic and equitable society.

Aboud: Personally, the theme of International Women’s Day 2024 – ‘Inspire Inclusion’ – resonates deeply with my commitment to serve as a role model. Inspiring the next generation is not just a privilege; it’s also a great responsibility. It involves breaking down stereotypes, opening pathways for women and girls in education and professional fields and actively mentoring young women to assume leadership roles. To inspire these groups, we must ensure that there are tangible opportunities for growth and achievement. Such opportunities include establishing scholarships, internships and mentorship programmes focused on empowering women in the legal profession, promoting gender-sensitive policies within judicial institutions and highlighting the achievements of women in the field to create visible role models.

O’Leary: I believe that there are concrete measures which one can also take to assist or inspire others. One initiative I am proud to be part of is the Gender Champions in the Judiciary Network, which is a regional network of judges in the Western Balkans committed to advancing gender equality. I am one of the patrons of the network and I have participated in judicial fora on themes such as domestic and gender-based violence and tackling bias and discrimination. In terms of leadership in the law, it’s important that women feel able to demonstrate the different nature and quality of female leadership rather than simply seeking to emulate previous styles and patterns.

Schmuckillustration Designed by Freepik, 3st kommunikation

Top trio for human rights

A signal for equality: since the start of 2024, all three regional human rights courts have been led by women.

How would you assess collaboration among the three regional human rights courts?

Aboud: It is our shared commitment to upholding and advancing human rights globally within our different continents. It underscores the importance of cross-regional cooperation in addressing contemporary human rights challenges. A dynamic platform for learning and mutual support, enhancing the effectiveness of our collective efforts to safeguard human rights and set precedents that benefit people across different regions.

Hernández: Our three regional human rights courts are increasingly facing common challenges. So, my commitment is to continue fostering an environment of open dialogue where we can learn from each other, effectively address current challenges and anticipate future ones. The Permanent Forum has been an essential mechanism for strengthening these collaborative ties since its inception in July 2018.

O’Leary: Since the first San José Declaration, signed in 2018, contact between the world’s three regional human rights courts has been transformed from an ad hoc form of cooperation to a permanent form of institutionalised, judicial dialogue. I had the honour in 2023 of leading a delegation of Strasbourg judges to San José for our third forum and I experienced first-hand the importance of formal and informal dialogue. I am particularly proud of the Joint Law Reports, which are a concrete product of our cooperation and encourage increased cross references to each other’s jurisprudence. There are still avenues to explore to further deepen our cooperation. Despite the distances which separate us physically, the ties between our three courts are strong.


Editorial Note: The presidents of the human rights courts were interviewed separately.

Síofra O’Leary ECHR

Síofra O´Leary

The regional human rights courts

There are three regional human rights courts worldwide:  


Cooperation across continents

With the International Regional Law and Access to Justice in Latin America project, GIZ is supporting human rights and the rule of law in Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ also supported the three regional human rights courts in setting up a permanent dialogue forum. The regular meetings at various locations are used to discuss topics of particular relevance to all three courts.

Contact: Helen Ahrens
The project contributes to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):
SDG 5: Gender Equality SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions