The nomination of Judge Ayesha A Malik to the Supreme Court of Pakistan: a historical moment in the fight for women’s rights

Sofia Lopez Simpson is a second year International Relations student. Her hobbies and interests include playing the guitar and spending hours making spotify playlists.

A battle has been won by women in Pakistan after the first female Judge is nominated for Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Judge Ayesha A Malik’s nomination has been supported by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and is meant to be decided by the parliamentary committee, who will confirm the appointment of her ten-year term.

In September 2021, the judicial commission rejected Malik’s elevation since four out of eight members opposed her nomination due to a lack of seniority, despite her having previously obtained fourth place in Seniority on the Lahore High Court where she became a member in 2012.

Malik has carried out groundbreaking rulings to allow for the empowerment of women’s rights in Pakistan. She legally banned virginity tests done on female survivors of sexual violence; as she accounts, this procedure is “a humiliating practice, which is used to cast suspicion on the victim, as opposed to focusing on the accused and the incident of sexual violence”. Although this ruling will only apply for the state of Punjab, it could very well set an example for other states to follow suit. Malik emphasised the need to take actions towards victims of sexual violence in the international system as well. In 2019 Malik also started leading the committee for Protection of Women Judges in Lahore, where women fight against the mistreatment of female judges and she is part of the International Association of Women Judges.

This was received negatively by men in Pakistan. Opposition from a large part of the legal community such as Pakistan’s Bar Council was seen, whereby some lawyers threatened to go on strike if she became part of the Supreme court. Also, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, Abdul Latif Afridi, has encouraged the country to demonstrate against her nomination. They argue that the opposition does not stem from gender, but rather from the fact that her lack of seniority was not considered. However, the Women in Law Initiative who advocates for the equal rights of female lawyers in Pakistan stated that basing her appointment on seniority is not just, as there had been forty one instances where Judges were nominated and appointed in Pakistan’s Supreme Court without a senior status. Moreover, the constitution or law in the country do not demand Judges have previously been in a high senior position. 

Despite this, Malik has received positive reactions from lawyers and activists in Pakistan as well as internationally as they view her nomination as an important step towards the fight for women’s rights in the highly conservative and patriarchal Pakistani society. Zarmeeneh Rahim, an Islamabad-based lawyer, stated that “to finally see a woman sit on the highest court in the land is a small step forward in that struggle.” People in social media have also expressed their admiration for Malik’s nomination.

Although it is important to point out that- as argued by Benazir Jatoi, also an Islamabad-based lawyer- “This elevation has come 74 years too late” (referring to the date of Pakistan’s independence), she said that “we should all celebrate that some change to an all-male bench has finally come,” This shows the importance and significance of this nomination as it allows for the empowerment of women in the country. Also, it is the first step of a battle won by Pakistani women, as it has taken decades for one woman to be recognized in the Justice system of the country. Other women in the country and region might consequently be encouraged to pursue their careers in the hope to one day reach the revered position that Judge Ayesha A Malik has. The assignment of a female Judge in the justice system would allow for a female perspective which could shed light and attention to issues surrounding women, such as improving their rights and security in Pakistan.

Though the fact that a battle has been won by Pakistani women merits rejoicing, it is crucial to keep in mind that there are still many more hurdles and obstacles to come in terms of guaranteeing equal rights and security to women in the country, as sexual assault and discrimination are still highly undermined by the legal system despite its frequent occurrences. If Malik is to be appointed to the Supreme Court, she could become Chief Justice of Pakistan by 2030, which once again would earn her the title of being the first woman to achieve this position. Having a female figure in a high position within the Pakistani Supreme Court upholding equal rights amongst men and women is an event that should be celebrated- here’s to hoping there will be many more in the future!

Bibliography

ABC News. “Pakistan Has Its First Woman on the Supreme Court – so, Who Is Ayesha Malik?” ABC News. ABC News, January 8, 2022. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-01-08/pakistan-first-woman-supreme-court-judge-ayesha-malik/100745674. 

Janjua, Haroon. “First Female Judge Nominated for Pakistan’s Supreme Court.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, January 7, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/jan/07/first-female-judge-nominated-for-pakistans-supreme-court. 

Judge Ayesha Malik. January 8, 2022. Currentaffairs.adda247.Com. https://currentaffairs.adda247.com/justice-ayesha-malik-to-be-pakistans-first-woman-supreme-court-judge/. 

Masood, Salman. “In a First for Pakistan, a Woman Is Cleared to Become a Supreme Court Justice.” The New York Times. The New York Times, January 6, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/06/world/asia/pakistan-woman-supreme-court.html. 

Women’s Agenda. “Justice Ayesha Malik Set to Become Pakistan’s First Female Supreme Court Judge.” Women’s Agenda, January 9, 2022. https://womensagenda.com.au/latest/justice-ayesha-malik-set-to-become-pakistans-first-female-supreme-court-judge/. 

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