Pakistan is the only country in the region not to have elevated a woman to the highest level of the judiciary — the Supreme Court. This is perhaps unsurprising given the profoundly patriarchal nature of the dispensation of justice at every level, from the highest to the lowest. Equally unsurprising is the level of government opposition to any attempt to redress the situation, as evidenced by the government resistance to a private member’s bill introduced by the PPP on May 16. The Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani has referred the bill titled the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) (Amendment) Bill 2016 to the relevant committee — and an uncertain fate. The bill was moved by former law minister Babar Awan and it calls for at least one-third of the superior bench to comprise women, one from each of the four provinces plus Islamabad as well as a woman from Fata. The mover insisted on tabling the bill even after Law Minister Zahid Hamid no less, opposed it.
The debate and the proposed bill cut to the heart of one of the systemic ills that afflict the state — the inequality of access to justice, and the failure to promote qualified women as judges at every level of the judiciary nationally from small provincial courts to the highest in the land. The argument as the mover of the bill states has its origins in Article 34 of the Constitution that states “Steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of national life.” Considering how widely the Constitution is disregarded in this respect, it is normative rather than exceptional that women are excluded from the Supreme Court as judges. That said, there is a constitutional procedure for the appointment of judges as pointed out by the law minister that requires amendment and this cannot be flouted, but amendment there must be if a manifest wrong is ever to be righted and women sit as judges in the Supreme Court.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 19th, 2016.