Close this search box.


Close this search box.

Justice Malik talks about bringing women’s perspective to judiciary

Justice Ayesha A. Malik of the Supreme Court during a visit to London spoke about breaking the glass ceiling and her journey as a woman judge in a male-dominated profession with entrenched biases.

At a Future of Pakistan Con­ference session held at the London School of Economics (LSE) by the Pakistan Development Soci­ety, the SC judge told spellbound audience members, many of them female law students, about the challenges and opportunities in her career.

“There were many challenges. I was the only female associate at the law firm where I worked, and then became the only female partner. Later, I was the only female judge at the Lahore High Court for one and a half years. Now, I am the only female judge in the Supreme Court,” Justice Malik said.

“Imagine a hall of people full of men, with one female in the room — that’s the feeling you get. The challenges ranged from where the women’s bathrooms are in court to how people address you, or how one should dress. Even the conversations at tea time were typical ‘locker room’ or ‘boy talk’ conversations. I don’t relate to that boy talk, so now it has to change.

Says suo motu powers get a bad name as they are applied to political cases

“I have been lucky. But there are many women from the district judiciary who have had a tough life and have come from a different background. The crowd they deal with is tough. Those women are far less in number, and the courtrooms they work in are not built for women,” she added.

Justice Malik said her journey has been about bringing the “gender perspective” to her work, a view she said is entirely missing. Describing her rise to the apex court, she said: “As a woman I had to work harder and be on my best to show I am capable in order for people to have trust and faith in me.”

Addressing the controversy that arose during her elevation from the LHC to the SC, Justice Malik said: “When I was being appointed, this debate that I wasn’t the most senior judge was brought up. I was at number four [in terms of seniority]. The judges appointed before me were not the senior most. In fact, 45 were appointed before me who were not the senior most, so there is no seniority principle.

“The argument is the appointment of SC judges is not structured and is made on a choice. The question is: whose choice? It is more an exercise of power. I was not the first non-senior most judge who was elevated… there were many before me. One has to wonder what the debate was about.”

Suo motu powers

About the use of suo motu powers, Justice Malik said they get a bad name as they are applied to political cases and “bring out what we don’t want to see”. “But on the other side, they have laid down the foundational principles in the country. The court took notice of bonded labour and an SC judgement put an end to it. Suo motu powers have been exercised for a long time in important areas, not just politics. Aside from bonded labour, environment is another area but for some reason no one is talking about that.”

On the systemic discrimination faced by women, Justice Malik said: “There is a narrative, and you are constantly battling that narrative. It is a country where policies and laws are made by men and interpreted by men. It’s men who tell you the experiences of women. One is often told ‘this is the way we do things’ — and that’s where I said no that’s not OK.

“The courts are designed by men for me, so no one has thought about women in the buildings. Even women litigants don’t have a safe space where they can sit, where they can nurse their children, remove their hijab — no one has really thought about it. I talk about this and encourage women judges in the district judiciary to make space. I have been advocating for a budget to have women toilets — it’s such a basic issue, but it’s important.”

Source: Dawn