‘Justice Delayed is Justice Denied’ – Hon. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.
Attending the International Association of Women Judges Biennial Conference was an incredible opportunity and a privilege. During the Conference, I had the privilege of speaking to several remarkable individuals including her Hon. Sharon Hawke from Ngati Whatua and Ngati Matua, Justice Susan Glazebrook, and Justice Christian Whata, to name a few. I learnt so many valuable lessons from an array of highly respectable speakers, from over seventy-five countries. I hope that one day soon, I am lucky enough to work alongside one of these great judicial leaders.
The conference began at the beautiful Orakei marae, where we were welcomed with a pōwhiri. Within the marae’s walls, we had the privilege of hearing from Hon. Sharon Hawke, Associate Professor Claire Charters and Chief Justice Heemi Taumauna to name a few. These honourable people spoke on the importance of Maori issues, and how Maori people have shaped New Zealand. I was moved by all the speakers, especially by Sharon, who spoke on the rise of the Pakeha and the consequential grief of the Maori people. Other takeaways were that of the one hundred and seventy-nine Judges in New Zealand, only seventy-three are female and only one quarter are Maori or Pasifika. It was also stressed that the voices of Indigenous people must be heard, and change must be implemented. Hon. Taumauna stated that Rangatahi Courts need to be made universally accessible. Charters furthered this point, saying that New Zealand is in breach of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. There is a pressing need for Courts to transparently acknowledge the inequity faced by Maori and Indigenous people. It is ultimately the Courts’ responsibility to uphold and enforce Tikanga.
I was honoured to speak to a lovely Kuia while enjoying some coffee and kai. We discussed the need for change within New Zealand and that despite some progress, there was still a long way to go. From our conversation, I believe that as a Pakeha woman, I have a responsibility to ensure Tikanga is upheld, and that the voices of Maori and Indigenous people are not only heard but prioritised and placed at the forefront of the conversation. We need to read the original Treaty and recognise where Pakeha went wrong and where there are still corrections to be made. It is also fundamental that Te Reo and Maori history are compulsory in all educational institutions.
There were many global issues covered by an articulate range of speakers. I will do my best to summarise the main takeaways. All lessons I learnt, including the Maori and Indigenous
issues, were equally important. From the inspirational young New Zealanders, I learnt the following. While the law can limit identity, including that of queer people, it should be used to advance identity. The Muslim community has always experienced Islamophobia, before and after the tragic attack. We must unite against this, which begins in the way we treat each other. Climate Change needs us to act with urgency; we cannot let the Pacific Islands sink. There is a need to embrace people with disabilities and in the words of Grace Stratton, ‘treating disability as a disadvantage won’t help disabled people thrive.’
Other issues from the conference which I believe are fundamental to advancing the law are summarised here. Refugee issues are ‘an interpretive muddle’. Afghanistan needs our help and solidarity. Women are being murdered and women Judges live in fear. To stop human trafficking, we need a victim central approach. In terms of COVID-19, while being vaccinated is fundamental, vaccinations are not the solution. There needs to be a clear elimination strategy. Finally, gender inequality is not just a women’s issue. It is a men’s issue, and it is high time men are educated on this. Women and men need to educate men on breaking gender norms.
I think we as individuals (scholarship recipients, Judges, and anyone who attended), can use the lessons learnt in our daily lives. Together, by using the law to uplift human rights and by empowering our fellow women, I believe we can make great progress. In the words of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ‘fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.’
By Talitha Patrick