The judicial system is just as biased as the rest of society when it comes to dealing with gender roles, whether in court decisions or women’s rise in the profession. Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa highlighted these issues in his address to ‘Women Judges Conference’ recently organised by the Punjab Judicial Academy. Women, he said, are facing different types of injustice and discrimination, including the right to inheritance and domestic violence, stressing the need for making courts more gender-sensitive. Towards that end, he termed the creation of gender-based courts as one of the landmark initiatives of the judiciary.
Noting that in a number of cases, women judges have been giving good decisions, the CJP asked them not to be hard with both parties like male judges, and adopt leniency with them. Apparently, these remarks are related to inheritance, divorce and child custody disputes. In such cases, like other men in society, male judges tend to be discriminatory due to personal beliefs and backgrounds. As for leniency, it of course should reflect in tone and tenor of presiding officers rather than any concessions at the cost of fairness. Gender-based courts are vital for protecting the rights of women and children in family disputes. They are equally, if not more, important for helping victims of sexual violence. Survivors of such violence generally are disinclined to pursue their cases for fear of being asked embarrassing questions by male jurists. Courts presided over by female officers can surely inspire confidence among women to report sexual offences and seek justice.
Gender bias in the judicial system not only influences court decisions, it affects the judicial system itself. Women are underrepresented in the profession. If that is not bad enough, they are subjected to blatant discrimination in handling important cases. As the CJP pointed out, female judges are taken as being incompetent, and cases are transferred from their courts. The Honourable CJP seemed to have endorsed the ‘incompetence’ claim somewhat when he said “female judges can adopt better way to change this thinking”, though striking a positive note, he said, soon there would be female judges in the Supreme Court as well. There may be some incompetent female judges as are many of their male counterparts, but to treat the former differently proves correct rights advocates who argue that women have to be 10 times more competent than men to prove their mettle in any field. Attitudes will change for the better when more and more women are represented in the top judicial positions.