On Wednesday, February 27th, in Washington, DC, nine women judges from Guyana, Colombia, Peru, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and the United States will discuss three issues:  (1) how are women's rights being addressed by the courts in the Americas; (2) the importance of strengthening diversity in the judicial systems; and (3) the role of international law in promoting women's rights.

The panelists are:

Desiree Bernard (Guyana) was the first female judge to be named to the Caribbean Court of Justice in 2005. Prior to that, she served on Guyana’s Court of Appeals, was chief justice of the Supreme Court, and was chancellor of the judiciary of Guyana and the Caribbean. She has served on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and is a member of the International Association of Women Judges.

Catalina Botero (Colombia)
is the special rapporteur for freedom of expression of the Organization of American States. Before assuming this position, she was acting magistrate and auxiliary magistrate on the Constitutional Court of Colombia for eight years. She was also national director of the Office for the Promotion of Human Rights in the Office of the People’s Defender of Colombia.

María del Carmen Alanís Figueroa (Mexico) currently serves as a magistrate on the Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación (TEPJF) in Mexico. She became the first woman to serve as president of the Tribunal in 2007, a position she held until 2011. She previously held a number of posts within Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute, including executive secretary and executive director of electoral training and civic education. She also founded the Working Group on Electoral Jurisprudence in America, comprised of presidents of electoral courts in OAS member states.

Mirna Perla (El Salvador) was the first female justice named to El Salvador’s Supreme Court, serving in the Court’s Civil Chamber from 2003 to 2012. Prior to that, Perla served as justice of the peace and a judge in one of El Salvador’s juvenile courts. From 1988 to 1992, she was vice president and general coordinator of the Comisión para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Centroamérica, and from 1992 to 1993, she was a member of the Comisión de los Derechos Humanos de El Salvador.

Vanessa Ruiz (United States) is a senior judge on the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, she was appointed to the Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton in 1994. Ruiz was previously corporation counsel (now District of Columbia attorney general) for the District of Columbia and an attorney in private practice. Ruiz is active in numerous organizations, including the International Association of Women Judges, and serves as immediate past president of the National Association of Women Judges.

Janet Tello Gilardi (Peru) was appointed justice on the Supreme Court of Peru at the beginning of 2013. She previously presided over Lima’s drug trafficking court and also led Lima’s Superior Family Court. She is president of the Board of Directors of the Federation of Associations of Judges for Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Clara Ines Vargas (Colombia) served as a justice on the Constitutional Court of Colombia from 2001 to 2009, becoming the first woman to preside over a Colombian High Court in 2004, when she was named its president. She is a member of the International Association of Women Judges, and the Association of Women Judges of Constitutional Courts and Supreme Courts in Latin America and the Caribbean.

María Eugenía Villaseñor (Guatemala) is a judge on Guatemala’s Fifith Court of Appeals on drug trafficking and environmental crimes in the department of Quetzaltenango. She served as president of the court from 2004 to 2009. During her long career, she has presided over a number of human rights cases, among them the killing of forensic anthropologist Myrna Mack. In 2000, she published a book on domestic violence and social aggression in Guatemala.

María Francisca Zapata (Chile) is a judge on the First Supervisory Court of Santiago. She is a professor at the University Andrés Bello and has written a book and numerous articles on penal reform in Chile. Since 2004, she has served on the National Association of Magistrates promoting structural reforms to the judicial branch. She also belonged to the Lawyers’ Group of Chile, through which she sought to promote a gender perspective within public and private spaces of power.