President Banda says Zambia is committed to domesticating international instruments on the rights of women and children.
Mr Banda said in Livingstone yesterday that the authorities are also keen to meet the SADC target on equal representation of men and women in decision-making.
“As long as I am President of Zambia, the Zambia Association of Female Judges is assured of receiving new members as I intend to continue appointing more female judges to the bench,” Mr Banda said of his plan to enhance the status of women in the country.
The President was opening the 6th International Association of Women Judges Africa regional conference at Zambezi Sun Hotel.
“It is the policy of my Government to appoint more female judges to the bench as stipulated in the SADC protocol on gender and development which requires state parties to endeavour that, by 2015, at least 50 percent of decision-making positions in the public and private sectors are held by women,” he said.
He said there is a realisation that judicial competence requires more than just knowledge of the law.
“Interaction with judges from other jurisdictions also contributes to the improvement of judicial skills and competence. As a result of the training, adjudicators in Zambia have not only become more exposed to cases involving women and children's rights abuses, but have also been encouraged to resolve these cases in accordance with the principles enshrined in international and regional human rights legal instruments and treaties,” he said.
Mr Banda was in the company of Home Affairs Minister Mkhondo Lungu, Southern Province Minister Elijah Muchima, Chief Justice Ernest Sakala, Zambia Association of Women Judges chairperson Justice Ireen Mambilima and IAWJ executive director Joan Winship.
Mr Banda said his administration is grateful for the work and contribution the Zambia Association of Women Judges (ZAWJ) is making towards the advancement of women's rights in the country.
“This is a fact which my Government is very proud of and we remain committed to ensuring that women are accorded the opportunity to be equal development partners in every area of human endeavour. It is in recognition of this noble contribution and the efforts of the women adjudicators, to enhance the protection of women and children's rights that I have committed to continue to appoint more women adjudicators,” he said.
Mr Banda said the ZAWJ should continue to foster judicial networking and cooperation with fellow adjudicators from other jurisdictions.
“From the training conducted so far, there is a remarkable improvement in the quality of decisions in cases of gender violence and sexual abuse,” he said.
He said there has also been an increase in convictions for defilement although the vice is still prevalent.
The theme of the three-day conference is “Judicial integrity” and “Women's and Children's Rights - A judicial Perspective.”
The President said the primary objective of the recently enacted Anti-Gender Violence Act No.1 of 2011 is to provide protection against gender-based violence.
“You are aware that the majority of victims of gender based violence are women and children. I am pleased to note that gender based violence is a substantive topic for discussion at this conference,” he said.
The conference has attracted participants from Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, USA, The Netherlands, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the host Zambia.
Mr Banda said Government is committed to the advancement of women's rights, hence the inclusion of the development of gender responsive policies and legal frameworks in the Sixth National Development Plan.
He said also said Government intends to develop strategies to domesticate appropriate and relevant provisions contained in the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.
“It is also the objective of Government to enhance the capacity of women to participate in national development and strengthen institutional capacities for effective gender mainstreaming. Zambia is party to several international legal instruments which provide for the protection of women's and children's rights,” he said.
Mr Banda expressed confidence that the judges have and will find ways of incorporating the principles outlined in international legal instruments into their decisions.
On integrity, the President said this was critical in advancing women's and children's rights and that it is common for women to experience discrimination and inequality in politics, employment, property rights, personal status in marriage and access to national wealth and resources.
He said women tend to face various economic and social obstacles sanctioned and upheld by culture, stereotypes, perceptions and religious practice.
“Integrity is very important on the bench. Without judicial integrity, the cause of safeguarding the rights of women and children, and all who seek recourse in the courts of law will almost certainly be a lost one.
It is my hope that although this distinguished gathering of eminent adjudicators, solutions may be proposed to ensure that women and children enjoy their rights as enshrined in national, regional and international human rights instruments” he said.
The President said the judiciary needs to demonstrate a great sense of responsibility, impartiality and diligence in the execution of judicial functions.
And Chief Justice Sakala said there is need to treat judicial justice with the seriousness it deserves.
“In my view, judicial integrity must also enhance judicial competence. An incompetent judicial officer cannot profess judicial integrity,” he said.
“At times, we are responsible for public attacks and criticisms of our institutions because we fall short of judicial integrity and competence. Indeed, members of the public are entitled to ask why the system is so slow in dispensing justice,” he said.
ZAWJ president Justice Mambalima said it is common knowledge that the appointment of women to the bench was and in some cases still remains a slow process.
“I do not need to go into details about the peculiar challenges women adjudicators face. But allow me just to mention that it is a fact that the workload in most judicial legal systems is fairly heavy and demands full procedural litigation,” she said.
And Ms Winship said judges by nature hold the lives of the people in their hands and the decisions they make on the bench affect all the people.