Collaborative Research: Diffusing Equality: International Influences on Womens Appointment to High Courts

Project: Research project


Women remain under-represented on the high courts of most countries, although recent gains have been made in some countries. Gender inequality on the bench poses potential problems for womens rights, democratic equality, fairness in the judicial process, and public confidence in the judiciary. A crossnational, cross-temporal study of the gender of justices appointed to high courts will elucidate international and national sources of changes in national legal institutions. The goal of this project is to help to answer the important question: Why have more women been appointed to high courts in some countries and at some points in time than others? This goal will be accomplished through the pursuit of three objectives: 1) collect and analyze data on the appointment of men and women to national appellate, constitutional, and supreme courts from 1970 to 2010 for 168 countries; 2) collect cross-national data on the procedures of nomination and appointment to high courts, which are not currently available; 3) conduct case studies in four countries to shed light on how those entrusted with the selection of justices are influenced by external and internal pressures to appoint more women to high courts. Intellectual Merit: This project makes four fundamental contributions to existing knowledge about legal processes: 1) develops a theory of the role of international factors in the appointment of women to high courts; 2) contributes to scholarly debates on diffusion of legal norms by constructing hypotheses to test several mechanisms of diffusion, including both ideational and rational incentive-based mechanisms; 3) builds a new and unique dataset on appointments to high courts around the world; 4) tests the effects of global diffusion against domestic-level explanations emphasized by previous research using both large-N data analysis as well as more in-depth case studies from across the globe. Broader Impacts: The results of this project will have broader impacts. First, the project and the data will be of central interest to academics who study comparative and international law, political science, sociology, and gender studies. The research will be presented at national conferences in these disciplines and will serve as the basis for journal publications and a book manuscript. On a wider scale, the data, codebooks and publications that result from the project will be made publicly available to the academic community, policy makers, and policy reformers on a website hosted by Arizona State University. Second, the data and analyses will be useful to practitioners, activists and judges. The United States and organizations that have poured resources into judicial reform and gender equality, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations, and the World Bank, lack global data on womens membership on high courts. Understanding how appointment processes work could assist policymakers in identifying the factors that enhance inclusion on high courts. The findings from this project will have practical implications for international and local womens advocacy groups that want to promote gender equality in positions of power but lack systematic information on where women high courts judges are and when women ascend to high courts. Third, the project will educate and train graduate and undergraduate students in political science and law in research processes. The PIs also intend to incorporate the findings and data in undergraduate and graduate classes on the judiciary and women and politics. The data will be made available to these students for their own research.
Effective start/end date8/15/138/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $177,492.00


political science
sociology studies
appellate court
legal norm
legal process
constitutional court
studies (academic)
gender studies
women's rights
science studies
research process
World Bank
international law