May 2024 President's Letter

Written by National Association of Women Judges|May 07, 2024|Monthly Update Archive

karen-sage.pngI write to you having just returned from Maldives.  I was invited by The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) to be the Keynote Speaker at the Second Annual Women Judges meeting of Maldives. My invitation came about because OPDAT sponsored the participation of Maldivian women judges at the 2022 and 2023 NAWJ Annual Conferences. I was told that “through this engagement at our annual conferences, the Maldives Department of Judicial Administration had become well informed about the exceptional leadership and advocacy of NAWJ for women judges worldwide.”  The experience was nothing less than amazing.  In addition to OPDAT and the U.S. Department of Justice, the conference was sponsored by the United Nations Development Program and the Judicial Services Commission and Department of Judicial Administration of the Maldives. The theme for the two-day conference was the interface of justice and women and children. Twenty-three women Maldivian judges attended the conference from all levels of the judiciary from Magistrate to the Supreme Court.
After an Opening Ceremony featuring U.S. Ambassador to Maldives Hugo Yen, the Chief Justice of the Maldives Supreme Court Hon. Ahmed Muthasism Adnan and US DOJ OPDAT Specialist Maldives, Hathif Hilmy, the first day of the conference focused on Domestic Violence and the challenges faced by women as victims ensuring a fair and compassionate legal process.  The morning session highlighted their encounters in the justice process through case studies addressing discrimination, stereotyping and other barriers.  The afternoon session emphasized takeaways, strategy and actionable points. I learned from our Maldivian colleagues that allegations of domestic violence are rarely handled by law enforcement. Police officers in general do not have the training, resources or interest to perform investigations. Instead, most domestic violence allegations are dealt with in family court. 
The second day of the conference focused on children and their interface with the justice system.  The participants addressed key issues in custody cases and the fostering system.  The participants broke into small groups to discuss strategies and solutions and then came together to report to the full group.
All the women attending the conference were active participants.  The attendees included two judges from the Supreme Court.  Justice Aisha Shujune Muhmmed and Azmiralda Zahar. Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court in 2019, Justice Shujune was first ever women appointed to the bench in Maldives in the late 2000s. Justice Zahar holds a PhD as well as a law degree.  The first woman judge appointed to the criminal courts was as recently as 2020.  All of these judges are bravely forging a way forward for the citizens of the Maldives to have equal access to justice under the law.  The most inspiring point of the conference however was at the end of the first day when the women took a vote to move forward to start their own Women Judges Association that will serve as a chapter of their Maldivian Judicial Association.  We face gender discrimination in our lives, but I cannot emphasize strongly enough the unique challenges these judges face. It was truly moving to see the birth of a new women judges’ association and their bravery in taking that step forward. 


Hon. Karen R. Sage
President, National Association of Women Judges 

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