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Breaking Barriers: Gender Equality in Indian Arbitration Still a Challenge, Says Chief Justice

In a bid to enhance gender equality within the Indian legal profession, Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud highlighted a significant gap in representation on international arbitration panels. Speaking at the inaugural session of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) South Asia Conference 2023, Chandrachud brought attention to the low representation of women in the field of international arbitration.

The Chief Justice revealed a concerning statistic, stating that "fewer than 10% of Indian arbitrators on international panels were women." This glaring disparity was termed a "diversity paradox" by Chandrachud, especially considering the rise in "regionally diverse panels of arbitrators."

Addressing the underlying issue, Chandrachud emphasized the role of unconscious bias in favoring male arbitrators and urged for a shift in approach. He referenced a gender diversity report that recommended using "gender-neutral pronouns in our legislation and rules," pointing out the importance of inclusivity in all aspects of dispute resolution.

Chandrachud commented on the growing popularity of arbitration in India, noting that the country has been steadily adopting best practices where arbitrations have become the preferred mode of dispute resolution. Indian courts have actively encouraged the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms and remain vigilant against attempts to undermine party autonomy through cleverly crafted contracts.

Furthermore, he shed light on the evolving landscape of legal challenges in the digital age, highlighting the recent memorandum of understanding (MoU) between India and Singapore. Chandrachud emphasized the need for collaborative efforts in judicial research and education, recognizing the growing prominence of digital assets in today's information-driven world.

Earlier this year, Chandrachud drew attention to the stark gender imbalance in the legal profession, describing the ratio of female to male lawyers in India as "abysmal." He stressed the importance of creating equal opportunities for women within the legal sphere, acknowledging the multiple responsibilities they often shoulder as they progress in their careers.

At the Paris Arbitration Week, Yas Banifatemi, founding partner of Gaillard Banifatemi Shelbaya Disputes, echoed concerns about the lack of progress in achieving diversity within the field of arbitration.

The disparity in gender representation within the Indian legal profession remains a significant challenge. Efforts to bridge this gap are underway, with Chief Justice Chandrachud advocating for a more inclusive and diverse approach to arbitration. Achieving gender equality in this sector is crucial for a fair and just legal system.