Women In The Legal Profession
In many parts of the world, especially in developing countries, women have been facing problems due to lack of opportunities and resources or because of their cultural background in the professional sector. The legal profession is considered to be one of the most reputable professions throughout the world, but in many parts of the world, especially in developing nations like Pakistan, it has been dominated by men. If we assess the current position and role of female lawyers, we can see that the tables have turned in the developed countries. In countries like the USA and Australia, women constitute a significant proportion of practicing lawyers, law faculties and even judges. These numbers are growing rapidly. The increased presence of women in the legal scene is changing the legal profession. There is evidence that the increasing entry of women in law is bringing more courteousness and gentility to the profession.
The situation of female lawyers in Pakistan on the other hand is quite pathetic. Women in the legal profession in Pakistan are playing an integral part, especially in family law cases and human right violations where they have been proved more efficacious in fighting against the injustices.
It has been clearly stated in Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan that all citizens are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.
The Asian Development Bank has spent millions of rupees on reforms in the judicial system in Pakistan and have embarked the importance to appoint more women as judges in both superior and lower courts in Pakistan. At present, there is no female appointed as a judge in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
In Pakistan, women started joining the legal profession in the 1960s. As a matter of fact, the first woman in Asia to be enrolled as advocate was from Pakistan, which was in the 70s and 80s. A few names in this struggle are worth mentioning. Asma Jehangir and Hina Jillani are two sisters who have played a significant role for women rights as well as in the Rule of Law. Their father spent many years in prison for opposing a military dictator. Asma organized the first public demonstration in Islamabad against the unjust rape conviction of a blind rape victim named Safia Bibi, a judgment which was later struck down by the Federal Sharia Court due to technical grounds. This was an unprecedented public demonstration by women against injustice. There were many more, especially during the lawyers’ movement for the restoration and independence of judiciary.
In spite of the fact that more women as compared to men have been graduating with a law degree lately, hardly a few of them seem to adopt this as a profession. Numerous women complain of gender discrimination in the male-dominated field and switch to a profession that is more accepting of women, which includes pursuing a profession in teaching.
The future for women in the legal profession in Pakistan is a grey area. With limited opportunities and social constraints to grow, many women leave the profession or take up positions like in-house lawyers or legal consultants. The gap between female and male associates is quite apparent in most law firms in Pakistan. Most female lawyers prefer fighting corporate and family cases mainly to avoid facing any kind of harassment. 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.
There are signs emergent which indicate that young female lawyers have the commitment to make a difference. Both worldwide and especially in Pakistan, there has been an increase in the number of women attracted to law.