It is unacceptable that the superior courts of the country have only three female judges out of a total of 103 judges. The percentage of women judges in superior courts is 2.91 percent as against the 33 percent required by the UN Beijing Conference of 1996 to which Pakistan is a signatory. The reason defined by the activists from the legal fraternity and feminists is that there is no culture in the superior courts for accepting women as being intelligent and capable of becoming a good judge. The lawyers of high reputation say that the female judges cannot provide justice because they are more concerned about their dress and covering their body parts so they cannot concentrate on the case law during a hearing.
The mindset is strong in the higher judiciary that the appointment of female judges should be resisted. There were some incidents where two senior women judges were forced to withdraw from the contest for the post of judge at the Supreme Court, for example Justice Mrs Fakhrun Nisa, who was a senior judge of the Lahore high court, Punjab, was refused elevation to the Supreme Court. Though she was very active in the movement of the restoration of the Chief Justice, the only reason defined by the former office bearers of different bars, was that she was a woman.
Another woman judge was Justice Mrs Khalida Rasheed, former judge of Peshawar High Court, Khyber Pakhtumkha province. She was qualified to become the chief justice of the province in 1997 but in the effort to undermine her advancement she was given an international assignment in an effort to stop her passage to the Supreme Court. This was done despite the fact that she was the only candidate qualified to do the job. This was the time when Mr. Nawaz Shareef was the PM and he wanted to impose Shariah law, which was passed by the national assembly. However, this was later rejected by the Senate.
There are other examples where the women judges were not treated as equal partners. A former lady judge, Justice Qaiser Iqbal of Sindh provincial High Court, was terminated on the charges of taking the oath on the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) of General Musharraf, when the judges decided to call off on boycott in protest of the suspension of the chief justice. During her appeal in the Supreme Court against her termination the judges at the bench, including the chief justice on many occasions insulted her and passed sarcastic remarks. She had to stand for the whole day before the bench and was not allowed to take a chair, which was seen as a slight against her status as a judge of the High Court. It is said that she became so dejected by the insult that she once tried to commit suicide.
Justice Mrs. Yasmine Abbasi of the Sindh High Court was also terminated on the charges of taking the oath of judge when the chief justice was ousted from the post by General Musharraf. She was a competent judge but was not liked as a woman judge according to the independent lawyers. She fought her case bravely but was assigned a government job. She told the Supreme Court bench that she will not apologise at any cost as she never took the oath illegally. She was transferred to the Ministry of Law as a secretary. So the Sindh High Court was cleared of women judges — an Islamic action which was praised by the fundamentalist groups.
Another lady judge faced the same discrimination; Justice Ms Rukhsana Ahmed was terminated on medical grounds, accused by male judges of being mentally ill as she always decided cases on merit. She further angered them by not agreeing with the chief justice’s opinions on politically motivated cases. She was given the job on being recognised as a learned lawyer and was confirmed as a judge in 2010, therefore it was hard to punish her on the charges of taking the oath under the PCO.
The senior lady judge, Justice Majida Rizvi, who was the first woman judge in the country, was also not given the position of senior judge when a dispute came before the judge that among justice Bhagwan Das, Justice Nazim Siddiqui and Justice Majida Rizvi. Her name was first given by Benazir Bhutto in early 1989 but then she was appointed in Sindh high court in 1994 when Benazir Bhutto became PM for the second time. If she was given the status of senior judge of the High Court she would have become the judge of the Supreme Court as justice Bhagwan Das was elevated to Supreme Court.
Looking at the list of judges at the website of the Supreme Court and High Courts of the four provinces one will be surprised to find that women judges have never been considered for the superior courts; a clear indication of gender discrimination. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has 16 judges and among them there is not one single woman judge.
The Federal Shariah Court has two judges neither of which are women.
The Islamabad High Court has three judges once again none of them are women.
The Sindh High Court has 25 judges all of which are men as they were successful in getting rid of all the lady judges.
The Lahore High Court has 36 judges only one of which is a lady judge as does the Peshawar High Court with 13 judges and only one lady.
The Balochistan High Court has eight judges with one lady judge. It is felt that this is the most progressive court in that there is one lady amongst the eight judges.
It is not known if there are any women in the prosecutor’s office. It is only in the lower judiciary that there is a sizeable number of women working as judicial officers particularly for civil cases.
It is generally felt that there is a mindset in the superior judiciary to neglect women or undermine their capabilities of doing justice. Due to the growing fundamentalism and bigotry members of the judiciary believe that keeping women away from the judiciary will make them appear as pious Muslims in the eyes of Muslims at large. There is also a fact that in Islamic history there has never been a lady Qazi-Ul-Qazat (chief justice). Therefore, to make Pakistan a true Islamic society there is no need to have a high ranking woman judge. This trend is growing more and more and now, as stated earlier there are only three lady judges. While the Sindh High Court was considered the most progressive where lady judges were appointed there is now not a single lady judge.
The people of Pakistan have also witnessed the discriminative attitude of the chief justice in the cases of Muktaran Mai, the gang rape victim, and the three Hindu girls who were abducted and forced to convert to Islam. The CJ allowed that the Hindu girls had to accompany their abductors and did not even allow them to meet with their parents. Later the chief justice met with the abductors in a Friday congregation and congratulated one of them for converting a Hindu girl to Islam.
A judicial policy was announced in 2009 by the chief justice where there was no mention of the preference for keeping seats for women judges nor there was any mention about the court’s will to work against the discrimination of women in the society. The policy also did not mention how women, lawyers or prisoners and other accused persons would have privacy in the court’s jurisdictions and there was no discussion on the issue of women.
Interestingly the judiciary is involved in the petty issues of the women. for example the Supreme Court has stopped an advertisement of a hair removing cream by saying that this advertisement cannot been seen by all family members. This was a Sou Moto action.
A case against obscenity is also being heard by the chief justice where it has become hard for the court to reach a point on what is obscene and what is not because many legal terminologies also come under ‘obscenity’. This attitude has also seeped into the parliament where the Muslim fundamentalist members have introduced a resolution for the newscasters at television channels. The assembly has made it mandatory that all women newscasters should wear headscarves during broadcasting, a tradition of former military dictator, General Zia.
Pakistan has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) but the judiciary believes that it is also beyond any international obligations. The Asian Development Bank has spent more than USD 350 Million for the reforms in the judiciary and has mentioned that women judges should be appointed. The same has been said under the USAid programme of gender equality and a huge amount is reserved for it under the Kerry-Logger Bill. It also demands that more support is given to the women.
The discrimination by the judiciary will not improve unless it starts at the top with the Chief Justice. If Mr. Chaudry does not change his mindset the other high ranking members of the judiciary cannot be expected to change theirs. Women must be permitted to fill that 33 percent of the seats they are entitled to.
In Pakistan there is supposed to be 33 percent of the seats given to women in every field. This was mandated by the UN at the Beijing Conference in 1996 to qualify at a minimum level for the elimination of discrimination against women. Therefore, it is not in Pakistan’s best interests to ignore its obligation to provide opportunities to women in general and in particular the judicial process. This is especially important given that 49 percent of the population of the country is women. It is therefore incumbent on the judiciary to instruct the other government departments to implement the 33 percent of seats for women so that the country can meet the minimum level set at the Beijing Conference. The appointment lady judges to the superior courts will lead the way for women in other government departments and disciplines. Therefore it is urged that the government of Pakistan to fill 33 percent of the seats of the judiciary with lady judges. We urge the readers to sign the petition attached herewith to show support for this cause.