Jean Choi

I am a self-professed conference fan, as conferences embody kanohi ki te kanohi. The gathering of minds and hearts in one place. COVID-19 changed the landscape of the world, including conferences. The IAWJ Biennial Conference was originally meant to be in 2020 but was postponed until 2021. As the world is still grappling with COVID-19, many delegates and speakers were attending virtually, including myself. 

Law is about human connection. You would think law would be full of compassionate personalities, as lawyers and judges deal in delicate situations where connections break down. But instead, the profession has many analytical, detailed, complex, extroverted, and passionate personalities... Not necessarily compassionate. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see how collegial and compassionate the speakers were at the IAWJ Biennial Conference 2021. This was my first time attending. I had expected more hyper-masculine female judges, as we live in a society that rewards masculine personality traits. However, each woman contained a soft and formidable energy.  It was uplifting to see a genuine collaboration between different states about judicial female leadership. Dame Winkelmann encouraged us to tell the stories of women in our judgements, even if it does not have legal standing (yet). Justice Yuthayotin encouraged us to celebrate Thailand appointing their first female Supreme Court president. 

This year’s IAWJ Biennial Conference was centred around diversity. COVID-19 has accentuated diversities and inequities, particularly on women. I had thought I grasped the effects of COVID-19 on women. However, Justice San Gaspar-Gito gave IAWJ a frightening perspective on how COVID-19 has affected Filipino women. She explained that the Philippines has experienced a brain drain, especially with their female nurses relocating overseas. The women were often on temporary visas in search of a better life for themselves and their families. However due to COVID-19, these Filipino nurses are predominantly on the frontline. For example, Filipino nurses made up approximately 32% of those dying on the frontline in one study. This tragedy of their deaths impacts their families, future generations, and the Philippines as a country. It highlights how COVID-19 is killing certain groups of women silently. Women from developing countries are dying, serving developed countries’ needs.  

Professor Robinson reminded us that we cannot ignore the intersectionality of female experiences throughout the world. From Philippines to back Aotearoa New Zealand, it seemed fitting that Sharon Hawke (from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei) paid respects to the tragic death of Joannee Manumea Cooper-Hawke, an innocent five-year old victim from the consequences of the Bastion Point occupation. Women carry, give birth, and provide life. This should be treasured. But women (and therefore children) are invisible, oppressed and dying. Female judges see these so-called invisible effects the law has on us all. This is exactly why we need more judicial female leadership.  

Therefore, until we come kanohi ki te kanohi again... As Justice Blackburne-Rigsby would say, we are thinking of our “sisters-in-law.”