President Zardari has declared that the government has decided to appoint women to the judiciary, a move that can only be supported at the same time as noting that it is a move long overdue. He made the announcement at the conclusion of the ‘One Million Signatures Campaign’ which was designed to raise awareness of violence and discrimination against women. The president rightly said that such practices were not just a problem for Pakistan but were common elsewhere in the subcontinent – which is no reason not to examine our own deficits closely. Discrimination against women is it in terms of their education, job or promotion opportunities, rights of inheritance or reproductive health care is one of the greatest impediments to our overall development. It is all very well for the president to laud the achievements of his government citing the passing of the 2010 Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010 Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2011 Criminal Law Second Amendment Act and 2011 Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act – but you can pass legislation until hell freezes over but what is it worth if it is not enforced?
Once again the president invoked his late wife during whose incomplete terms in office the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) were both signed. Signing an international convention that is not legally binding is one thing, passing legislation another; and she proposed no pro-women legislation in either of her terms nor repealed any of the women-discriminatory laws from the Zia era, most of which remain on the statute books.
We have parliamentarians who are happy to stand up and proclaim that the burying alive of women on the grounds of ‘honour’ is culturally acceptable and others who have fought tooth and nail to block laws that would have protected women were they ever enforced. It is against that background that the government is now considering appointing women judges. They will be working in an environment where the law is honoured more in the breach than the observance – and that too by the very government that will have appointed them if they are seated before the election. Our future women justices are going to find life on the bench no easier than they do in every other aspect of their lives. Perhaps they could learn some valuable lessons from the distinguished women judges we have had in the past.