Women in justice – 02 Apr 2023
Justice Musarrat Hilali was sworn in yesterday as the first female chief justice of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) after the retirement of CJ Qaiser Rasheed. She is the second woman who will take charge as the CJ of a high court after Justice Tahira Safdar, who was the top judge of the Balochistan High Court. Being a senior puisne judge, Justice Hilali will serve as an acting CJ till the appointment of a regular chief justice by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (and one hopes that Justice Hilali will be notified as the chief justice then by the JC). People are rightly celebrating Justice Hilali because Pakistan lags behind many South Asian nations when it comes to the justice system and gender equality. Until the elevation of Justice Ayesha Malik to the Supreme Court in 2022, Pakistan was the only nation in South Asia to have never had a woman Supreme Court judge. According to Human Rights Watch, only about four per cent of Pakistan’s high court judges are women. This shows that the legal system and our judiciary have a gender imbalance problem.
It is unfortunate that we are in 2023 and even then till now, we have only had one female chief justice of the high court and now a second acting female chief justice. Last year, we got our first woman Supreme Court judge. Even in bar elections in Pakistan, there have been very few women office bearers. The legal fraternity, like many other professions in Pakistan, has for years – and even now – been decried by women lawyers as a boys club where women are not encouraged. When the decision-making bodies of the legal fraternity just have men deciding the fate of the judiciary, it is not surprising that women are discouraged and face a lot of problems when practising the law. We have had icons like Asma Jahangir who broke the glass ceiling by being elected as the first woman president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and who advocated that women lawyers should come forward and be in positions of power in the judiciary and legal system. Pakistan ranks low in gender parity rankings. A lt of that would be fixed if there were more women in decision-making powers in institutions like the judiciary, among others. This is why both Supreme Court Chief Justice Ayesha Malik and PHC Acting Chief Justice Mussarat Hilali are a hope for the future of women in justice, women in law, and women appellants.