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LJCP Report: The severe under-representation of women in the judiciary.By Kashif Mirza


Mar 30, 2024

The writer is an

economist, anchor,

analyst and the

President of All

 Pakistan Private

Schools’ Federation



Historically, the legal profession was not considered suitable for women. As time progressed, so did women and today women enter this profession of choice. However, there are still not enough women in the judiciary and certainly not enough women in the superior judiciary.  In the process of administration of justice and writing judgments, judges have an important role, as judicial decisions have a wide and deep impact on social constructs, social order and systematic inequalities that prevail in the system. This paradigm must change and our judiciary must reflect the diversity of our society, ensuring that the voices and perspectives of women. Among the 230,879 lawyers registered in bar councils nationwide, a meager 17% are women. In a recent report released by the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan, startling statistics shed light on the representation of women in the country’s judiciary. The report stated that among the 3,142 individuals serving as judges or law officers nationwide, a mere 18% are women, as revealed by the Commission’s findings. This figure, although reflective of progress, falls short of adequately representing the diverse fabric of Pakistani society. Delving deeper into the hierarchical echelons of the judiciary, the report underscores a glaring disparity in higher courts. Out of 126 judges presiding over esteemed institutions such as the Supreme Court, the Federal Sharia Court, and the five High Courts, only 7 are women. This stark representation, constituting a mere 5.5%, underscores the uphill battle towards gender equity at the uppermost levels of legal adjudication. However, a glimmer of hope emerges within the district courts, where a slightly more encouraging scenario unfolds. Of the 3,016 judicial officers serving across the nation’s district courts, women constitute 19% of the total count. Women also lack any real representation in the bar councils with only 2.2% members being women out of a total of 205 members from the eight bar councils, including the Pakistan Bar Council. The number of female advocates in senior level positions or as heads of law firms also remains negligible. Women in Pakistan constitute 49% of the population and yet their representation in decision-making, policy and leadership roles is inconsequential. In the context of the justice sector and broader goals of gender equality, this means that few women are able to advance in the profession to a point where they are able to have both, a seat as well as a voice at the table to make an impact. One of the most significant implications of this glaring disparity in representation is that women’s lived experiences, peculiar circumstances and differing needs and approaches often do not get reflected in the ensuing policies, judgments and operations of these institutions which have the capacity to impact not just the women in law, but also those litigants who approach the courts, especially women and children. As a result, the missing gender lens leads to the creation of an environment, laws and policies that are likely not based on holistic, participatory, enabling and inclusive measures and which perpetuate the existing disparities by reproducing the inequities in the system. While this figure hints at progress, it remains evident that further strides are necessary to achieve substantive gender parity within this segment of the judiciary. Beyond the bench, the legal profession itself reflects a similar pattern of gender imbalance. Although the first appointment of women judges in Pakistan dates back to 1974, the significant appointment of lady judges in the past decade has caused a jump in female representation in the judiciary to more than one third in family courts – a quiet move that sends a message of adherence to the principle of gender equality as per the international treaties to which Pakistan is signatory. 

The Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum yearly, has placed Pakistan at the lowest ranks, especially for what concerns economic empowerment. According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) report published in 2021 under the title In Pursuit of Justice, South Asia is behind Middle East and North Africa for what concerns women’s representation in the judiciary. In addition, Pakistan does not have enough female representation at the supreme, constitutional, and regional courts. The tension between judiciary and the executive which has informed the rise and fall of the Lawyers Movement, also transpires in the protection of women’s rights in Pakistan: whilst the Federal Shariat Court, which belongs to the judiciary, has substantially defended so far the appointment of female judges. Women judges in Pakistan express a keen wish for international acknowledgement that takes cultural specificities into account. Perhaps, from the point of view of the lady judges themselves, the most all-encompassing conclusion of this should be that the lady-judges of Pakistan are skillful and creative in combining culturally informed expectations with the needs of their profession. The leading example of such creativity is gender segregation reformulated as an indicator of accountability and a way for female judges to be accepted even by the most conventional strata of Pakistani society. Women judges’ narratives develop in Pakistan also around themes that are significant at the global level: experiential teaching and problem-solving learning; childcare; softness as a controversial argument that has the potential to act as a plus and not as a minus; difficult execution of state-courts’ decisions in a situation of de facto legal pluralism that exceed the state; and communication with peers and seniors. The struggle becomes therefore for the social scientist to adequately make sense of these socio-political and economic dynamics without becoming an instrument in their hands. As this has shown, context-informed analysis will benefit from taking into account the making and re-making of identity-processes that go beyond the narrow concept of nation in order to highlight the local implications of the global development agenda. The international trend is that the representation of women in the legal profession is crucial to a just decision-making process, and the lady judges of Pakistan are evidently filling the gap implied by quantitative data. The challenge lies in whether this change will be mainly a formal one or also one that leads to a consistent inclusion of women at all levels of the judiciary. As the inclusion of women in the judiciary should be considered an achievement regardless of the issue of whether a gender- balanced judiciary is indeed more accountable and just. Obnoxious arguments highlighting the obstacles to women’s participation in social life a justification for their exclusion, have received credit for too long. This has also provided evidence of the facile manipulation of the global development agenda by both national and international actors: on one hand short- term gender representation for the sake of international image and on the other the international donors who appear to conveniently reformulate women’s rights in order to avoid the cost related to childcare and security of employment. All this in the backdrop of a social activism that, in spite of its goodwill and good cause, too often lacks the expertise for appraising the complexity of social facts at the ground level. Hence, the gaps of information in the human rights reports, which this paper has filled by discussing the achievements as well as the failures of female judges’ appointments. Such a complex social phenomenon also hints at for-profit strategies that intoxicate some of today’s international aid. Eventually, this shows that women judges in Pakistan share similar preoccupation with the other women and men in the judiciary around the world regarding better working conditions, training, and the combination of family and profession. Yet, the sustainability of female representation in Pakistan might depend also on whether or not their specific claims for a context appropriate professionalism will indeed strengthen their legitimacy within Pakistani judiciary as to break the glass ceiling on the longer term. It is important to highlight that the process of recruiting judges in the subordinate courts is significantly different than the nominations and appointments process of the higher courts, in that, at the subordinate level, it is based on a competitive examination and recruitments are made in accordance with Judicial Service Rules of the province. 

The regulators and concerned bodies must recognize the ground disparities and structural barriers that hinder women’s access and advancement in the justice sector to take a leading role in introducing necessary reforms for a diverse and inclusive legal system that enhances the stature of the profession on the diversity and inclusion index. 

The regulators and concerned bodies must recognize the ground disparities and structural barriers that hinder women’s access and advancement in the justice sector to take a leading role in introducing necessary reforms for a diverse and inclusive legal system that enhances the stature of the profession on the diversity and inclusion index. When judges interpret and implement the law, their reasons and opinions are a reflection of their thought process, an insight into their perceptions. These perceptions in the very least must be representative of both men and women on the bench so as to ensure a fair and adequate response through judicial decisions. It is important to note that including women in the judiciary is not simply about ensuring that her perception is relevant to resolving cases about women. It is much more than that. It is about integrating the gender perspective and giving equal visibility to women. Integration and visibility are important to help build the narrative which includes the gender perspective. Women in the judiciary bring with them the gender perspective. A different approach, a different thinking process, a different set of emphasis. All judges – male or female – decide cases as per the law in an effort to uphold the rule of law. In doing so, they may reach the same conclusion on a given set of facts, but for different reasons with different emphasis on the relevant facts. This is because they are influenced by their own life experiences, environment, and circumstances. This makes the gender perspective relevant because women judges bring a different set of experiences and influences which then shape their thinking and is reflected in their reasoning in the judgments. Bringing different perspectives and diverse reasoning on the bench creates greater public trust and confidence because it is more reflective of the composition of society. It integrates varied social contexts and experiences that need to be included, recognized and, most importantly, valued. Another aspect of building on the gender perspective for inclusivity and visibility is the use of a gender-neutral language, which is a language that is particularly conscious of gendered words and roles and of the depiction of women. The choice of words, or a lack thereof, is integral not just in everyday language, but especially in judgments as language can perpetuate a bias. For example, the constant use of the pronoun he can perpetuate the belief around the dominant role of men. Implicit or unconscious gender bias is generally hidden in language and possibly, without any realization, is entrenched in the system by relying on the same assumptions and presumptions, particularly those concerning women. However, while language can perpetuate these stereotypes, it can be equally impactful in bringing about positive and much needed change, systematic and timely. This is because language impacts the thought process of people and can be the catalyst of change. Therefore, gender-neutral language is necessary for inclusiveness and for increasing sensitivity. It is also needed because it can positively reinforce a more inclusive and respectful narrative of women and change the imbalance. Ultimately, language is a tool for communicating different perspectives, which makes way for a more balanced thinking and more inclusive reasoning. All this is possible when women are well represented on the bench. The challenge in this scenario is whether this change will only be formal or whether it will also lead to substantial and accountable justice, additionally elucidate how the global developments impacts local expectations and conceptualisations No of rights within and beyond the state. Indeed, the Commission’s report serves as a clarion call for stakeholders at all levels to champion the cause of gender equality within the judiciary. The under-representation of women in the judiciary must be addressed, as Pakistan marches towards a future anchored in principles of justice and equity, the imperative to harness the full potential of women within the legal domain stands as an indomitable mandate.

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