Gender bias plagues justice system

By Lin Shih-fang 林實芳  / 

Mon, Aug 19, 2013 - Page 8

Divorce cases can only be handled by judges who are divorced, child custody cases can only be handled by judges who have children, sexual assault cases can only be handled by judges who have experienced sexual abuse, murder cases can only be handled by judges who have killed someone, gangster-related cases can only be handled by judges with a gangster background and drug cases can only be handled by judges who have taken drugs.

These restrictions may sound absurd, but they reflect the fallacious response by Yilan District Court President Liu Shou-sung (劉壽嵩) to the transfer of military cases from the military to the civilian judicial system.

Liu said that his district court plans to determine whether a judge has the ability to issue judgments on related issues based on whether they have the required specific experience.

According to Liu, female judges would not be able to handle military cases because they have not served in the military and do not even understand military ranks.

Reacting to Liu’s discriminatory comments, Hung Tzu-yung (洪慈庸) — the elder sister of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) — said that understanding the military rank system was not very difficult and that it only took three days for her to learn it.

Perhaps what Liu meant was that female judges do not perform military service, so they do not understand the authoritarian culture of absolute obedience which is based solely on rank and the view that men are superior to women.

Since most male judges have performed military service, they know that such obedience is the military’s supreme principle.

The Ministry of National Defense has always set restrictions for women who want to join the military by claiming that women would find it hard to adapt to military culture, but still it does not dare face up to the frequent sexual assault cases in the military.

The question is not whether we understand military culture, but whether we are willing to reform it.

Liu’s remarks were not only illogical, but also discriminatory against female judges and dismissive of their abilities.

According to Judicial Yuan data, the number of female judges at courts of all levels has been increasing, making up more than 40 percent of the total number of judges in 2009, and reaching 43 percent in 2011.

Still, 75 percent of female judges are concentrated at local district courts.

At both the Taiwan High Court and the Supreme Court, the ratios of female judges to male judges are lower than at district courts.

This is a result of the culture in legal circles, where there traditionally have been more men than women.

Looking at the gender distribution among presiding judges, there are four times more men than women.

Although female judges account for a considerable portion of Taiwan’s legal professionals, Liu’s remarks show that they are still facing a hostile work environment, which is highlighted by cases such as the president of Fujian Lianjiang District Court sexually harrassing a female judge, and a male judge at Shilin District Court sexually harassing a female secretary.

The idea that female judges are unable to handle military cases due to an unfamiliarity with military ranks has exposed the culture of gender discrimination in legal circles. How do judges with gender-based prejudice properly handle cases?

In a recording from a court session last year released by the Judicial Reform Foundation, Prosecutor Lin Kuan-yu (林冠佑) of the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office told a female victim of a car accident that women should not drive cars and should stay home to take care of their children.

On Tuesday, the Awakening Foundation listed at a press conference a number of absurd rulings issued in cases dealing with sexual assaults in intimate relationships.

Among the examples cited was that of a husband who had forceful intercourse with his wife although she suffered from vaginitis and a urinary-tract infection at the time. She did not scream because she did not want to wake their children, and later filed a lawsuit.

However, the judge was of the opinion that she was obliged to cohabit with her husband and that she should accommodate her husband’s need to give vent to his sexual desire and that the act therefore did not constitute marital rape.

In another example, a judge believed that a boyfriend beating his girlfriend so she would have sex with him was common practice and did not constitute sexual assault.

Not only do these judges lack sensitivity about violence in relationships, they also ignore people’s bodily integrity. Even worse, they treat marriage and intimate relationships as a license to commit sexual assault.

The transfer of military cases in accordance with the amendment to the Code of Court Martial Procedure (軍事審判法) clearly exposed the district court president’s gender bias. The military system is not difficult to understand. What is difficult to understand is gender discrimination.

Lin Shih-fang, a lawyer, is

secretary-general of the Awakening Foundation.

Translated by Eddy Chang