Windhoek - Gender equality activists in Namibia have welcomed the first ever appointment of female justices to the country's supreme court.
The chairperson of the Namibia Women Lawyers Association, Ruth Herunga, said the appointment of three female judges, a first since the country gained independence, can be seen as the breaking of a glass ceiling.
Herunga said although women have gained access to positions of political power, a significant number of African countries still lag in the representation of women at the highest levels of the judiciary.
"It is now recognized that the contribution of women judges worldwide and their active participation at all levels of decision making is essential to the achievement of equality and democracy. With these appointments, Namibia also joins the ranks of other countries both on the continent as well as the world who have in recent times already appointed women judges to the highest court," she said.
The country's minister of justice, Yvonne Dausab, welcomed the appointments but said more needs to be done in terms of representation because the top tier leadership at both the Supreme Court and the High Court are still male dominated.
"We anticipate that over the next few months there are going to be a lot of cases that involve a variety of issues and also a variety of people. You want to make sure that the bench reflects those demographics that people come from so that people have confidence in the system," she said.
An all-male bench of the Supreme Court of Namibia recently overruled a High Court judgment in favor of a same-sex couple who were seeking citizenship for a child they said was theirs - born through surrogacy in South Africa.
In that matter, High Court Judge Esi Shimming-Chase ruled for the child to be granted citizenship, however, the highest court of appeal overturned that decision.
Shimming-Chase has now been appointed to the Supreme Court alongside High Court of Namibia Judge Johanna Prinsloo for a period of one year.
Zimbabwean Constitutional Court Judge Rita Makarau is the third new Supreme Court judge. Namibia's legal system allows for judges from other jurisdictions to serve on the country's high courts and Supreme Courts. Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and several other countries in the Southern African Development Community have similar systems and allow legal practitioners to work across borders as long as they are registered.
Ndilimeke Auala of the Namibia Institute for Democracy said these appointments will strike a balance in Supreme Court judgments.
"Society and our processes only flourish with equal representation; Now the female judges must be held to the same standard we hold the male judges, they will be judged by the way they defend the weak in society and speak truth to power. They have the chance to influence policy to improve [sic] an equal society," said Auala.
Rita Makarau's appointment has been questioned by opposition parties in Namibia because of her perceived closeness to the ruling ZANU-PF party of Zimbabwe.
The opposition in Namibia accuses her of being complicit in the alleged rigging of elections in Zimbabwe.
Female activists however argue that if she was a man her fitness for the bench would not have been questioned.