Is the bias broken? Pakistan's first female Supreme Court judge is sworn in - Justice Ayesha Malik
January 26, 2022
A positive turn in history sees Pakistan's first female Supreme Court judge.
Sworn in by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed at the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Justice Ayesha Malik now sits on a bench alongside 16 male colleagues in the Muslim-majority country's top court.
"I congratulate Justice Ayesha Malik for becoming the first female judge of the Supreme Court," tweeted Prime Minister Imran Khan. "She has my prayers and good wishes."
Mixed satisfaction surrounding the appointment
Her appointment was not without controversy, as with many other breakthrough decisions that see women’s progression within male-dominated spheres.
A number of lawyers' bodies threatened to strike and boycott court proceedings over Justice Malik's appointment after they said their calls for the drawing-up of fixed criteria for the nomination of Supreme Court judges were ignored.
Improving gender diversity in the judiciary
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent rights organisation, praised the landmark appointment in its statement, “As the first woman judge appointed to the apex court in the country’s judicial history, this is an important step towards improving gender diversity in the judiciary, where women reportedly account for only 17% of judges overall and just under 4.4% in the high courts.”
Islamabad-based lawyer Zarmeeneh Rahim was quoted in The New York Times as stating: "If women continue to be shackled by patriarchy and regressive interpretations of Islam, we will continue to not progress in terms of developing the human capital required to succeed nationally and globally...To finally see a woman sit on the highest court in the land is a small step forward in that struggle."
Nighat Dad, a digital rights lawyer and human rights activist, commented to the media on the significance of Justice Malik’s appointment: “It has definitely broken the glass ceiling. This will have an impact on cases, not specifically those related to gender, but having a woman judge there will be increased confidence among women to access justice and reach out to the courts.”
Renowned for her integrity and disciplined nature
Justice Malik’s role at the Supreme Court could positively transform how women in Pakistan access and experience the justice system. In 2021, she outlawed the use of so called draconian "virginity tests" during rape examinations of sexual assault victims, which was a landmark ruling for victims of sexual violence.
Renowned for her integrity and disciplined nature, Justice Malik was involved in delivering notable verdicts on important constitutional issues, such the enforcement of international arbitration in Pakistan and declaration of assets in elections.
As a member of the International Association of Women Judges, Justice Malik regularly speaks about issues that women face in public life in Pakistan. She has also appeared as pro bono counsel for NGOs working on poverty alleviation, microfinance, and skills development programs.
Educated at the Pakistan College of Law and Harvard University, Justice Malik became one of the first women to be elevated to the Lahore High Court, in the country's second-largest city.
A new era dawns as Justice Malik embarks on her role as Supreme Court judge.
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