KARACHI, May 25: About 1,400 female lawyers, including roughly 500 apprentices, out of total 7,500 advocates are practising in the city but hardly a few of them fight criminal or other important cases.
Most female lawyers prefer fighting corporate and family cases mainly to avoid facing any kind of harassment by their clients or male colleagues and ‘inappropriate’ questions posed to them during trial. Among male lawyers and clients, it is a general perception that women lawyers need to go a long way in order to be established as reliable professionals.
A woman lawyer, who chose the odd criminal cases, preferring to remain anonymous, reveals that men both colleagues and clients not only steer at them but try and strike unnecessary conversation.
“During the first few years of my practice, I was discouraged by my seniors. They would send me on errands during the cross-examination and would tell me that I was getting involved in something not meant for women. They used to give me advice that better go and deal family cases,” she recalls, saying that she was determined not to be bogged down by such demoralising remarks.
The problem is not specific to women lawyers but female clients too have to face such harassments.
Sahira, who has won a separation case against her husband, says male lawyers at times harass female clients.
“A lawyer used to call me every now and then and ask me to visit court for petty things for no rhyme or reason. Then another male lawyer, who asked for my recent photograph, inquired how my husband could stay away from me, saying that he couldn’t fathom it,” she recalls. It was that at point, she says, she decided not to hire a male lawyer any longer.
“My female lawyer was so corporative that she actually handled the case on her own and it saved me a lot of hassle,” Sahira adds.
Advocate Riffat Mehdi, who has been in profession for the past seven years with four years of court experience, says that all is not piece of cake as it seems. She views that it is a male dominant profession like many others of the sort and therefore has a lot of difficulties for women. “Our male colleagues, particularly those who are at the high court level, are quite cooperative though some of those at the lower courts are not so refined and well-behaved,” she reveals.
Ms Mehdi says, “There have been some incidences that she came to know about some of the lower court judges calling girls to their chambers and then misbehaving with them or the male counterparts indirectly.”
For the reason why women lawyers do not get criminal cases, she explains that mostly clients don’t trust in women when it comes to criminal and other such cases, therefore they end up having mostly cases that involve dispute in families, separation, child custody and other such cases.
For instance, she mentions, when women have to go to registrar in order to pursue a land dispute to dig up a file, the registrar demands bribe in order to quicken the process. “In such cases if the women lawyers do give some cash, her character is brought under question whereas if a male lawyer gives a bribe only his honesty is questioned,” she complains. However, she adds that the profession is quite safe and her uniform is looked upon respectfully.
Talking about criminal cases, she says she won’t fight such case even if she is given Rs1 million for it as the courtroom and the question asked are quite uncomfortable for women.
While Noor Naz Agha, president of the Pakistan Women Lawyers’ Association, completely disapproves the theory of women facing any hardship at all. “Women come to this profession with their preconceived notions and there is no harassment of any sort here,Â” she opines.
“You see a lot of girls opting for this profession nowadays and that is because they are inspired to this work,” she adds. She believes that society has no reservations as far as the women lawyers are concerned. A woman has to be confident and composed enough not to mention decently dressed in order to gain respect and work with dignity, she says.
Ms Agha has not come across nor heard of any case of harassment so far. Instead she says she has learnt about “a few incidents when female lawyers who appeared in court without any preparation at all were somewhat yelled upon for their ignorance about the case by judges”.
She argues that there are threats that lawyers (both male and female) working particularly on human rights get.
Aftab Bano Rajput, a lawyer dealing in criminal cases for the past 20 years, agrees to Ms Agha’s observations. She says that her seniors encouraged her pretty much. “However, it is tricky at times as far as clients are concerned. Some misbehave while others don’t take seriously what we say,” she says.
Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, a former judge of the Supreme Court, thinks that not many women lawyers are seen doing their job well. “Only those fighting the corporate cases are doing fine. Otherwise, women lawyers do nothing but appear in the adjournment and adjustments,” he remarks.
He argues that this profession demands much more hard work. Its diverse nature is somehow not rightly explored by the womenfolk, he says. “There are hardly any woman lawyers in criminal and murder cases and those who are donÂ’t burn the midnight oil as they should. They turn up without recording evidences and very poor trial work,” he says, adding that they don’t even take the civil trials.
“This is why I think the city for such a long time has rarely seen any woman district judge emerging,Â” observes the retired judge.
According to him, only a couple of good female lawyers are observed working in the city and unless there is a change witnessed in the attitude of women lawyers they promise nothing magnificent for the future.