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Explained: The significance of Justice Ayesha Malik’s appointment as Pakistan Supreme Court’s first female judge

Justice Ayesha Malik was sworn in as the Pakistan Supreme Court’s first female judge on Monday. Who is she, and why is this noteworthy?

Justice Ayesha Malik is sworn in as the Supreme Court’s first female judge on Monday. (Twitter/Christian Turner)

In a historic moment for Pakistan’s judiciary, Lahore High Court’s Justice Ayesha Malik was sworn in as the Supreme Court’s first female judge on Monday.

The swearing in of the first female judge of Pakistan’s highest court – which was established in 1956 – is noteworthy. For one, it makes the appointment of the country’s first female Chief Justice a more vivid possibility.

While Justice Malik’s appointment is being widely appreciated, some have pointed out the time it took for a woman to reach this position.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, women reportedly account for 17 per cent of judges overall and 4.4 per cent in high courts.

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Read |Ayesha Malik: How this Pakistani female judge shatters the glass ceiling

Compare this to India, where the Supreme Court (established in 1950) currently has four female judges out of a total of 34. Three of them were appointed in September 2021 and one of them, Justice BV Nagarathna could possibly become India’s first female Chief Justice in 2027.

India’s first female judge Justice Fathima Beevi was appointed in 1989, just eight years after Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the US Supreme Court. In 1981, O’Connor was appointed associate justice of the highest court by President Ronald Reagan.

Justice Ayesha Malik’s swearing in comes after months of debate surrounding her appointment, since she is the fourth in seniority among the judges of the Lahore High Court. This created a division between those who supported Malik’s appointment based on merit and those who were opposed to it on the grounds of seniority.

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Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that Senator Farooq H. Naek, who is the head of the parliamentary committee that approved her appointment said that the committee still believed in the principle of seniority for appointment for judges, but the approval for Justice Malik was given because it would be the first time that a woman candidate was elevated to the apex court.

The case for having more women in the judicial system

Representation of women in the judicial system is considered important not only for the sake of projecting equality, but also because women bring their lived experiences of being a woman to the courts, thereby adding a layer of gendered perspective.

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Judge Vanessa Ruiz, who is a Senior Judge for the Court of Appeals in the US argued in 2017 that the presence of women judges enlarges the scope of discussion by weighing in on how certain laws may be based on gender stereotypes, or how some laws can affect men and women differently. Such a gendered perspective can be especially significant in cases involving sexual violence and harassment, for instance.

In 2021, Justice Malik delivered a landmark judgment in which she declared the “two-finger test” for victims of sexual assault illegal and unconstitutional. In her 30-page judgment, Malik said that the two-finger test and hymen test offended the personal dignity of the victims that is enshrined in Article 9 and 14 of Pakistan’s Constitution.

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First published on: 24-01-2022 at 04:27:54 pm
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