by Sarmad Ali

Clip_21The percentage of women working in civil services is 5.4 while the representation 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 Constitution of Pakistan provides a framework for legislation to empower women. The Article 25 of the Constitution guarantees equality regardless of skin, colour, caste, creed, and breed. The United Nations Convention on Human Rights promises parity regardless of colour, caste and breed and Pakistan is party to this declaration. Pakistan is also signatory to plethora of declarations relating to human rights and has enacted several laws pertaining to gender equality. However, all these laws only exist in books.

Meantime, the Pakistani women face gender discrimination in all professions particularly in the legal profession. The percentage of women working in civil services is 5.4 while the representation 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. In other words, there are only three women judges out of a total of 103 judges.

Currently, 18 judges are working in Sindh High Court and all of them are men. In 2005 only one woman judge was appointed as a judge of the Sindh High Court and she retired in 2010. The Islamabad High Court has three judges, none of them is a women.

In Balochistan,  there are 8 judges in the High Court, only one is a woman judge.

The Lahore High Court has 40 judges, only two are women. 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.

On the contrary, there are 21 High Courts in India, out of 617 judges, 45 are women. In Bombay High Court, 7 women are serving as judges and the ratio of women judges in Mumbai High Court is higher as compared to rest of the states. For instance, there are 6 women judges in Delhi High Court whereas in the High Courts of Madras and Madiya Pardes four women are working as judges each. In the last six decades, five women were appointed as judges of Supreme Court of India. On the other hand, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has not even appointed a single women judge.

Fatima BB,  a Muslim from Kerala, became the first Supreme Court judge of India in 1989. After retiring as the judge of Supreme Court, she was appointed as the Governor of State of Tamil Nadu. In 2006, Ms. Saamia Ali Khan was appointed as the Judge of Patna High Court.  Currently, there are 26 judges in the Indian Supreme Court out of those two are women judges.

This year in Bangladesh one more woman has been appointed as a judge at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. Presently, there are eight women judges in Supreme Court of Bangladesh. There are 107 High Court judges in Bangladesh out of those 16 are women judges.

A small country in South Asia, Sri Lanka is far ahead of the rest of South Asian countries; Dr. Sherwani was appointed as the Chief Justice of Sri Lankan Supreme Court in 2011.
In Tunisia, there are 1698 judges out of those 470 are women judges. In Algeria, there are 2324 judges, out of those 547 women.

Some years ago a few clerics filed a petition against the appointment of women judges in Federal Shariat Court praying that women can’t be appointed as judges; the petitioners further stated that Islamic values prohibit women being appointed as judges. The full bench headed by Justice Agha Rafique dismissed the petition and penned down that women can work as judges and Islam doesn’t prohibit women from working as judges. The judgment was up to mark but since the formation of Federal Shariat Court about 44 judges have been appointed, but not a single woman appointed as a judge of Shariat Court.

A judicial policy was announced in 2009 by the Chief Justice. However, 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.

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 $ 350 million for the reforms in the judiciary and has mentioned that women judges should be appointed. The same has been said under the US Aid programme for gender equality and a huge amount was 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 under their entitlement.

About the author: Sarmad Ali is an attorney based in Lahore and lecturer in Law of International Trade. He can be reached