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Saturday August 20, 2022

Representation and the legal community

December 17, 2020

The writer is a Northern Iowapublic administration graduate with a specialization in policy design and implementation.

The legal community considers the constitution of Pakistan its holy grail. It does its utmost to ensure rule of law but has perhaps forgotten or chosen to ignore Article 34 regarding the full participation of women in national life and Article 25 regarding non-discrimination between sexes.

The male-dominated legal community has not made any concrete steps or campaigned to ensure that the state implements Article 34 viz a viz appointment of women in the judiciary. This male-dominated legal fraternity has also failed to guarantee meaningful representation and or participation of women in its bar councils.

It is quite depressing to acknowledge that no woman has ever been appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. On the many competitions with our South Asian neighbours, we consistently fare poorly. So, in this case too, Pakistan remains the only country in South Asia that has not had a single female judge elevated to the Supreme Court. India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka have all had women serve in their highest courts.

The deep dive into numbers paints a grim picture. Compared to the 107 sitting male judges of the high courts, as of July 31, 2020, there are only six women judges. Research conducted by Women In Law, an initiative for the equality of opportunity and connectivity of female lawyers in Pakistan, substantiates this grim picture. Their research shows that in 2018, women’s representation in the superior courts was 3.6 percent. There were a mere five female judges as compared to 134 male judges. At the district court level, female representation was 15 percent. The overall number was a meagre 14.5 percent. Currently, only 5.3 percent of women make it to the senior judiciary in Pakistan.

Due to this stark representation, there are no women on the constitutional body that is the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP). With the lack of representation of women on this constitutional body, it would be unwise to think that any woman can reach the highest echelons of judiciary in Pakistan.

Judge Vanessa Ruiz, the current president of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), says: “Citizens will find it hard to accept the judiciary as the guarantor of law and human rights if judges themselves act in a discriminatory manner. That is why the presence of women is essential to the legitimacy of the judiciary. Achieving equality for women judges, in terms of representation at all levels of the judiciary and on policymaking judicial councils, should be our goal – not only because it is right for women, but also because it is right for the achievement of a more just rule of law.

“Women judges contribute far more to justice than improving their appearance. After all, they live their lives as women, with all the social and cultural impacts women face, including complex family relationships and obligations. Women judges bring those lived experiences to their judicial actions, experiences that tend toward a more comprehensive and empathetic perspective – one that encompasses not only the legal basis for judicial action but also awareness of consequences on the people affected.”

In 2013, participants of the fourth annual Geneva Forum of Judges and Lawyers held similar views – that the composition of the judiciary must reflect the composition of society if it is to be perceived as legitimate and capable of delivering equal justice and upholding equality before the law.

Had there been a consistently active campaign for the promotion of women in the judiciary, we might have accomplished two feats sooner. First, ridding ourselves of archaic and invasive tests like the two-finger test. Second, a desperate revamp of Pakistan’s anti-rape laws. Accomplishing these two feats sooner may have helped avoid some of the inhumane tragedies that have occurred in recent times.

It is equally depressing to acknowledge that no woman has ever served as the attorney general of Pakistan. Perhaps the worst numbers of representation are at the bar council level. The Islamabad Bar Council has five members, Punjab Bar Council 75 members, Balochistan Bar Council five members, Sindh Bar Council 33 members, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council 28 members, and the Pakistan Bar Council 23 members – only one woman member out of 171 members. The only female member likely to make it to the Punjab Bar Council for 2020-2025 is Adv Rushda Lodhi.

There has been a constant conversation that courts need to incorporate technological advancements. However, our respective bar councils and bar associations themselves have not done so either. They cannot even produce a gender-segregated list of their members. Therefore, the actual situation regarding the lack of women’s representation is hard to measure. The available numbers give evidence to the fact like other professions the legal community does not offer a seat at the table to the women in their ranks.

The two Islamabad Bar Associations, comprising the District Bar and the High Court Bar, have 4800 total members. Out of these 4800, reportedly 842 are women. Even if they are a minority, they do not have any representation in the leadership of the bar associations. Not a single woman has served as president of either of the two bar associations.

The total number of lawyers registered as Supreme Court lawyers are 2999. Out of this number, 102 are women. Despite this number, no woman serves on the Pakistan Bar Council, comprising 23 members.

The legal community must do more to increase these numbers. For instance, male colleagues could support female candidates with a similar ideology to pave the way for fair representation. A quota system for representation of female lawyers and judges would also be a good step in the right direction. Quotas to boost this representation will lead to campaigns for progressive laws on violence against women, workplace harassment, and the promotion of equality. However, this quota system must go all the way to the top of the ladder; it should not be mere tokenism.

Such an increase in representation will increase access to justice for Pakistani women. An increase in women lawyers and judges will also increase the likelihood of women seeking justice, especially in cases of gender-based violence and sexual assault.

With an approximately 49 percent population of women in the country, it is only fair women have a voice in defining the design, extent, and remit of post-conflict justice mechanisms.

The JCP should also consider adopting the 50/50 approach. Under this approach, the two JCP recommendations for judgeship would be equally qualified male and female candidates. There should also be more support by the government and legal fraternity for initiatives like Women in Law to correct this current imbalance and male domination in the Pakistani judiciary.

An increased female representation in the legal fraternity and judiciary is imperative. It will improve the quality of justice, trust in the justice process and allow women to occupy a seat in the attorney general's office and or the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Email: ahsanjahangirkhan@ gmail.com

Twitter: @ahsanjehangirkh

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