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Chile: Andrea Muñoz: “Women have greater barriers to access Justice”

The Minister of the Supreme Court of Justice of Chile, Andrea Muñoz, in the highest court building, in Santiago de Chile, last Friday, May 27.
The Minister of the Supreme Court of Justice of Chile, Andrea Muñoz, in the highest court building, in Santiago de Chile, last Friday, May 27.Christian Soto Quiroz

The Ibero-American Judicial Summit (CJI) brings together the high courts of the judicial powers of Ibero-America and the councils of the judiciaries of the countries in which it exists. In total, 23 countries united in this instance of cooperation and articulation with the aim of achieving better access to Justice, efficient and timely, according to the new challenges in technologies and, in general, to the new challenges. It is articulated in a permanent presidency, another pro tempore and various commissions.

One of the groups, born in 2014, works on the incorporation of women in the judiciary, especially in the high courts. It is the Permanent Commission on Gender and Access to Justice that has been chaired since last year and until 2023 by the Minister of the Chilean Supreme Court Andrea Muñoz (Valdivia, 65 years old). And he has titanic missions ahead of him.

Ask. What are the main challenges?

Response. Deepen the work that the commission is doing around creating mechanisms and developing strategies to incorporate a gender perspective in the administration of Justice, in the very act of judging and passing sentence. A second major challenge is to make the need for parity in the high courts understood.

P. Do not the judges reach the high courts?

R. As a general rule, there are always more women in the lower courts, but the glass ceiling indicates that it is more difficult for female ministers to hold higher positions.

P. In Chile, in fact, the Supreme Court has not had a female president.

R. It would be wonderful if there were a female president and the minute will come when that happens. We are 21 in total and, of them, eight are women. The first minister of the Supreme Court was María Antonia Morales, in 2001. In Chile, as in Latin America, there was a phenomenon of feminization of judicial powers. Many women began to enter the courts of first instance, but they were more identified with the juvenile or family courts. Not today, because women are in the guarantee courts, the criminal courts. But the difficulty occurs when they want to access positions of greater responsibility. There are obvious barriers that have to do with gender.

P. For example?

R. Moving across the country and changing jurisdictions is difficult from the family’s point of view. Even when it is said that the selection systems are objective and that there is no discrimination, there is implicitly when you ask for training and a woman who is in the child-rearing stage has to reconcile her work with the care of the children, which has been allocated primarily to women. Some say: the same is asked of them. But the field is not even. With this issue of care work, an anecdote happened to me with a minister of a court in Spain.

P. What happened?

R. She was trying to run for the Supreme Court, but one time she couldn’t because her mom got sick. That is, either you have small children or you have older parents. Always, in the long run, moreover, when different powers of the State intervene, there is an issue of lobby, related to political power and women are not part of these brotherhoods. It means a different effort for them and they are not willing to handle codes or categories that are more masculine courts. And clearly women are required to stand out and be the best in order to be in the best positions.

P. In Chile we are with a constitutional body that proposes a rule of parity in the State. Is it possible in the Judiciary?

R. I believe in the need for parity. It depends on what is approved in the Constitution, but, in general, one should aim for the Court to be represented by women in the same way that we are represented in society. Now, I am one of those who think that the fact that there are more women does not ensure that there is a gender perspective, because women are diverse. But women do share common experiences and it’s very powerful. When faced with crimes of sexual violence, harassment or things of that nature, women have similar experiences and will be able to face them in a similar way.

P. Why is parity important in the composition of the courts? Wouldn’t it be just as fair if it were made up only of men?

R. Because we are in a society where there are men and women. And obviously, a better Justice is the one imparted by men and women and not only by one sex.

Andrea Muñoz, minister of the Supreme Court of Justice of Chile, in her office, on May 27, 2022.
Andrea Muñoz, minister of the Supreme Court of Justice of Chile, in her office, on May 27, 2022.Christian Soto Quiroz

P. What happens with crimes such as femicides?

R. We need to continue generating information on gender issues that allow us to better understand phenomena, such as femicide, precisely. We are interested in updating the record we made in the previous period (2019-2021). Our objective in this period is to position the commission as the instance that has the floor in terms of incorporating a gender perspective in the administration of Justice.

P. What specifically does the registry of femicides consist of?

R. It was an initiative led by the women’s office of the Supreme Court of Argentina and the idea is to gather information about the violent deaths of women. It is about seeking information on the age of the victims, the family link or not with the perpetrator or in how many cases a conviction is achieved or not. We are interested in keeping track of the issue of femicide, because it is one of the most pressing problems in the region.

P. In what sense?

R. It is very impressive to see the level of impunity that exists in other countries where women die every five minutes and there is little or no investigation.

P. What happens to Ibero-American women and their access to Justice?

R. We understand that women, due to the structural inequality that affects them, have greater barriers to access Justice, so the objective of incorporating a gender perspective seeks to lift these barriers.

P. Is Justice at the Ibero-American level not so fair with respect to women?

R. The idea is that people, when hearing a case and judging it, are capable of making visible certain barriers that, in the long run, are hindering women’s access to Justice. What seems central to me is becoming aware of what the stereotypes or roles that we attribute to a person for belonging to a certain social group mean. “Women are sensitive, while men are rational.”

P. Could you exemplify?

R. It is understood, for example, that women must respond to certain patterns. That often prevents seeing the case without prejudice. Sometimes it is believed that the gender approach will prevent Justice from being impartial and on the contrary: for Justice to be fair and equal, people must be seen without bias or prejudice. The issue of stereotypes is central and haunts us. In sexual violence, for example, there is the stereotype of the so-called ideal victim.

P. What does that stereotype refer to?

R. To the belief that a woman cannot walk in that place, dressed in that way or at that time. Women should be chaste and pure, according to this stereotype. Why did she go out for a drink at night with that guy? She “searched for it”. But stereotypes can sometimes be benign: women take better care of children. Then the woman is left with the role of caregiver and the man as provider.

P. Is there or is there not resistance from the judicial powers to incorporate these concepts?

R. Everything happens to promote more education and training. When there is ignorance and ignorance of what it means, it is more difficult. But the gender commission has socialized the results and the countries, in general, have been opening up.

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