Gender Section

Tanoa Recommendations

Gender Section


  • To promote the interests of judicial officers throughout the Commonwealth
  • To ensure wherever possible, equal access to the law


  • To provide a forum for judicial officers to be able to consider ways of redressing any gender imbalance:
    a) Gender Bias and other colleagues;
    b) Gender Bias and the Public both specifically and generally;
    c) Institutionalised Gender Bias and the Justice System.
  • To exchange information among judicial officers;
  • To encourage the advancement of women;
  • To promote and encourage women to be aware of their legal rights;
  • To address women’s groups on issues relating to the law and their legal rights.


Before the setting up of the Gender (formerly the Women’s Section) of the CMJA in August 1994, the Association was not unconcerned with issues surrounding women. The Rule of Law provides that the law should apply equally to all individuals who make up society regardless of gender, race, religion, and so on.

Commonwealth Judicial Officers have participated in human rights conferences and meetings organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Interights, and other international agencies since the late 1970’s. each passing decade, human rights issues have become an increasingly significant part of any conference agenda, and part and parcel of discussions on development in the legal field. Human Rights as a distinct area of Commonwealth focus became crystallised in what is referred to as the Harare Declaration of 1991 and is synonymous with democracy and good governance.

The Gender Section of the CMJA was established in August 1994 to promote the interests of women jurists throughout the Commonwealth and to ensure wherever possible that women have equal access to the law. The Section was set up in Zimbabwe during the CMJA’s Tenth Triennial Conference.

The current Chair is  Mrs Justice Maura McGowan DBE of England and Wales. The previous chairs were, Justice Lynne Leitch of Canada Dr Clover Thompson-Gordon OD, JP of Jamaica and The Hon Miss Justice P Macaulay of Sierra Leone.

Following its establishment the Section embarked on a Gender Bias Project which aimed to survey gender bias within the judiciaries of the Commonwealth. Statistics on the number of women magistrates and judges were collected and assessed, the results of which have been incorporated into the training programmes of the CMJA.

The Gender Section has been actively involved in four judicial colloquia on the Domestic Application of International Human Rights Norms to promote Women’s Human Rights which were jointly organised with the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Gender and Youth Division and the Commonwealth Foundation. The Colloquia took place in Zimbabwe in 1994, Beijing 1995, and Hong Kong 1996 and Guyana 1997.

The Victora Falls Declaration on the Human Rights of Women was adopted in Zimbabwe in 1994. These principles were approved and reaffirmed at both Beijing, Hong Kong and Guyana, all of which produced recommendations relevant to the needs and interests of their particular region. The Council of the CMJA has also given full backing and approval to the Declaration.

The CMJA was an official Observer at the Commonwealth Ministerial Meeting on Gender in Beijing 1995 which met to consider and approve the Commonwealth Plan of Action, produced by an expert group set up following the Cyprus Heads of Government meeting in 1993. Together with other Commonwealth Professional Associations under the auspices of the Organisation of Commonwealth Associations, the CMJA participated in a workshop which identified the Plan of Action as an example of the sort of Commonwealth programme on which CPA’s could base their collaborative efforts and activities vis a vis intergovernmental organisations, with the view to streamlining objectives and therefore among other things secure project funding.

The CMJA is working closely with other non-governmental organisations, academic institutions, intergovernmental organisations and national judicial bodies on gender issues. It participated in the formulation of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Gender and Equality Plan of Action agreed by Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers in 2004. It also participated in the Gender and Human Rights Expert Group convened by the Commonwealth Secretariat in January 2004. In conjunction with the Commonwealth Lawyers’ Association (CLA), the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat (LCAD), as it was then called, it ran a workshop in Fiji and produced the Tanoa Recommendations  Together with the CLA and the LCAD it launched a Gender and Human Rights Toolkit in March 2005 which was updated in May 2013 for use by paralegals, lawyers and judicial officers in the Commonwealth. I

The third objective of the Gender Section is to convene meetings of judicial officers and to facilitate the exchange of information among them and to discuss common problems. In practice the composition of participation at the judicial colloquia so far held have been that of an almost equal number of women and men judicial officers. The view being taken is that gender bias exists among women and men, and that raising gender awareness is desirable generally. In other words it is a matter of overall judicial education. The CMJA incorporates gender bias as a regular topic for discussion groups in its education programmes across the Commonwealth. Specifically the seminars help to identify gender bias in court and in the attitudes of those concerned with the court, namely magistrates and judges, counsel and court administrators. Since 1999, the CMJA has run a number of Gender Section Conferences in conjunction with the Caribbean Regional Conferences in order to raise awareness of gender issues. These have take place in St Lucia (1999), The Bahamas (2000) and Barbados (2001) Bermuda (2007). A Gender Day forum also took place during the Jubilee Conference 2002 and Gender Section Meetings have been held regularly in the wings of the CMJA’s Conferences in Turks and Caicos (2009), Brighton (2010), Kuala Lumpur (2011) Munyonyo, Uganda (2012),Jersey (2013), Livingstone (2014) and Wellington (2015), Georgetown, Guyana (2016), Dar Es Salaam (2017), Brisbane (2018), Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (2019) and virtually (2021).