The Fairer Sex In The Legal Profession: Tracing Women’s Place In A Man’s World

The Fairer Sex In The Legal Profession: Tracing Women’s Place In A Man’s World – A critical account of lessons learnt from the Women in Law Dialogue Series – an initiative by the Lahore Education and Research Network (LEARN) in association with Courting the Law.


It is not uncommon to consider the legal profession as one in which the predominant players are men. This is true across the board – from the most developed countries down to the underdeveloped without an exception. Although, over the years, women have and increasingly continue to play an integral role in the development of the profession, their journey in the field is nevertheless fraught with various challenges that are peculiar to their gender which as such would not be so present but for their gender. While the more ‘enlightened’ countries have sought to address some or most of these challenges, the fact of the matter remains that a lot more needs to be done on a multi-dimensional level to fully integrate the women in law.

These challenges become an even bigger cause of concern in countries like Pakistan because we belong to a society that continues to be fairly conservative when it comes to the womenfolk and so breaking the glass ceiling meets cultural constraints to further add to the challenges faced by women in the Pakistani legal profession.[1] However, these are exactly the sort of countries where efforts need to be made to bring the women at par with their male counterparts or at least to allow them a fair chance and opportunity to pursue their due because it is not only a question of gender discrimination but also a serious economic concern.[2] Wisdom therefore, lies in not allowing a talented pool of human resource go to waste.

These and other related issues will be pursued throughout this paper drawing from the experience this scribe obtained while developing and conducting the coveted Women In Law Dialogue Series – the first of its kind initiative in Pakistan that aimed to focus not only on the challenges and opportunities for women in law in Pakistan but also to initiate a dialogue towards the steps required to be undertaken for greater integration of women in the profession as well as bring together the Pakistani women in law on a common platform to unite, support and learn from each other.

Accordingly, this paper will be divided into three parts. Part One will be an introduction to the Women In Law Dialogue Series and the specialized sessions conducted under it. Part Two will highlight the lessons learnt and summarize the outcomes of the sessions, while Part Three will lay down the recommendations for reform and development towards a more inclusive legal profession.

Part One – The Women in Law Dialogue Series

a. Inception

The Women in Law Dialogue Series evolved rather organically as the next logical extension of another workshop that the Lahore Education and Research Network (LEARN)conducted at a law school in Lahore.[3] That workshop focused on advising final year law students on their career development in the legal profession. During the course of that workshop, my colleague and I were drawn to the concerns and voices of the female students participating in that workshop (much of which we have tried to address through this series; discussed later in this article) which in turn led us towards realization of a much bigger issue of female marginalization and lack of access to any forum in the legal profession from where they could seek guidance. Immediately, in our conversation that followed and drawing from our own personal experiences, we had uncovered a ‘dormant’ but nevertheless a pressing state of affairs of female lawyers in the country and set out to bring this matter to the foreground.

The more we delved into it, the more we realized its importance not just at the national level, but also at an international level. For starters, it did not take us long to understand the sheer depth and breadth of this issue and so we were certain of one thing right from its inception – that this could not be a single day event that withers away with the setting of the sun and gets lost in oblivion. It had to be a continuous effort and struggle until greater integration of women in the legal profession could be achieved.

b. Design

The Women in Law Dialogue Series was therefore, the first of its kind initiative in Pakistan that aimed to initiate a continuing ‘dialogue’ on the challenges, opportunities and place of women in the legal profession. The idea was to seek a level playing field as well as structural, administrative and systemic reforms that practically enable more women to enter and remain in the profession.

In order to do justice to the task at hand, the series was divided into three parts, Session 1 of which focused on the ‘Challenges and Opportunities’ for women in law in general, Session 2 on the contentious place of ‘Women in Litigation’ and finally, Session 3 looked at the ‘Non-traditional Career Options’ that have been increasingly becoming available to lawyers in recent years from which women could additionally benefit.

The series, not only focuses on understanding the challenges and opportunities for women in the legal profession but also hopes to initiate a dialogue towards creating an enabling environment for greater integration of female law graduates in the profession and ultimately their role at the bench, bar, bar councils and associations, law firms, and the profession in general.

While there existed an overall appreciation and recognition of the conscious or unconscious bias against women in the fraternity in general, there was, however, no talk or mention of deliberating upon solutions to make things easy, if not right, and given the lack of networking opportunities that women face particularly in relation to networking with their male counterparts, it seemed only right that a forum or platform could be provided to such aspiring female lawyers who get a chance to interact and benefit from the experiences of inspiring women in law who have already made a mark for themselves amidst the common challenges and shared concerns that we can all relate to.

We decided to conduct the sessions several weeks apart so as to allow more room to keep the dialogue alive. The 1st session took place on 1st of February 2016 at Books and Beans, Lahore. The 2nd session was held on 7th May 2016 at Sheikh Ahmad Hassan School of Law, LUMS, Lahore, Pakistan and the third on 23rd July 2016 at the Research Society of International Law, Lahore (RSIL), Pakistan.[4]

c. Session 1 – Challenges and Opportunities

Session 1 in the Women in Law Dialogue Series was designed to broadly cover both the challenges as well as opportunities for women in the legal profession. The idea was to look into and address some of the common challenges and shared concerns that most female law graduates may have upon entering the profession due to lack of opportunities for young female lawyers and students to find meaningful assistance for navigating their way into the profession.

With this objective in mind, the first session in the Women in Law Dialogue Series comprised of the most diverse and resilient young female lawyers in the profession today including, Ms. Nida Aftab who is currently working at Ashter Ali and Co. in the civil litigation department; Ms. Azmeh Khan, who is heading the legal department at Highnoon Laboratories; Ms. Marium Khalid who is a senior counsel working at ABS and Co. and has been involved in international arbitrations including that of Reko Diq and Ms. Anooshay Shaigan who is the Editor and Vice President of – Pakistan’s only legal awareness and analysis portal and related initiatives. The panel was jointly moderated by this author and Ms. Maira Sheikh who is a senior research fellow at the Research Society of International Law, Pakistan and my partner in this initiative.

The panelists were asked a set of common questions that encouraged each of them to share their own unique and individual journey into the profession while highlighting any peculiar challenges along the way. They were also asked to identify the personal traits and tricks of trade that secured them the opportunities that they had.

d. Session 2 – Women in Litigation

Session 2 was the most challenging session of the series both in terms of the issues it dealt with and in terms of the speakers who could address it.[5] This is because Session 2 was aimed at creating awareness and addressing the gaps between women and litigation that remain largely neglected in Pakistan.

The idea was to encourage more women to pursue litigation actively in courts and participate meaningfully in bar activities in order to fully realize their potential within the profession. In this regard, it sought to address the following themes:

  • Theme 1: Women, Practice and Rights: How the Legal Profession is Failing its Women
  • Theme 2: Successful Examples of Women Litigators and How they Overcame their Challenges
  • Theme 3: A Case for Reform: Making the Legal Profession more Gender-Friendly

The speakers included, Ms. Rabbiya Bajwa who is practising as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and has been active in her role at the Bar Council as well; Ms. Zoe Richards, who has a diverse experience in legal practice, both in courts as well as in the corporate and social sectors; Ms. Maryam Haq who is the co-founder and Legal Director at Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) which deals in areas of human rights and criminal justice, and Ms. Zainab Malik also working with the Justice Project Pakistan.

The session was moderated by this author and Ms. Anooshay Shaigan.

e. Session 3 – Non-Traditional Career Options

This session was dedicated to cover the diversity of options open to law graduates in general and to women in particular after their law degree so that they may take an informed decision towards their career paths. The idea behind the session was to put forth for the audience, career trajectories as well as challenges and opportunities that exist in the various careers that one may pursue following a law degree.

While the traditional career path of legal practice in courts and corporate firms remains the norm, session 3 of the Women in Law Series was designed to bring forth innovative and diverse career options for its audience. To do so, we had a diverse and vibrant panel of women in law who dared to be adventurous in their career choices and carved a niche for themselves in the process.

The panel consisted of Ms. Anooshay Shaigan for her role as the Vice President of Courting The Law and as a human rights activist; Ms. Fatima Shaheen who currently hosts a legal talk show Qanoon Bolta Hai on national television i.e. PTV; Ms. Maira Sheikh who is a senior research fellow at RSIL Pakistan; Ms. Mehreen Siddiqi from Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) and Ms. Ushba Al Ain who is an advocacy and outreach officer at Digital Rights Foundation (DRF).

The session was moderated by this author.

The views and comments of the speakers during these sessions and their analysis and statements on the challenges, opportunities and reform will be summarized and highlighted in Part Two of this article to which we now turn.

Part Two – The Challenges and Opportunities for Women in Law

This part of the article will seek to highlight, identify and enlist the main challenges and opportunities for women in the legal profession in Pakistan. We may not be quoting all the speakers individually. Our aim is to highlight what we learnt from the dialogue in the three sessions and pin-point the general trend that runs through the entire series. (Individual comments and detailed reports/videos of the session are already available and can be accessed online[6]). The question of overcoming challenges and the way forward to reform will be covered in Part 3 of this article.

General Challenges

  • Gender Stereotyping

Pakistan is a society where professions are still by and large chosen based on gender. Although numerous strides in this aspect have recently come to surface with the women’s cricket and football teams performing better than their male counterparts and female wardens minding traffic flows and riding motorcycles with just as much ease as men, they are still exceptions and not the norm. The majority of people, both men and women, still pursue careers said to be suited to their respective genders. For instance, you will still find more male engineers, police officers, pilots and firefighters and more female nurses, teachers, fashion designers and front desk officers on any given day, and the numbers in the legal profession are not any different than most of these other professions wherein law, traditionally being a male dominated profession, continues to remain so.

What is worrisome is that even if women do enter and remain in the profession, they still remain restricted to a limited and subordinate role vis-a-vis men and only a handful of female lawyers actually break the glass ceiling and excel. For instance, it is very common for women in law to be restricted to legal research and clerical work and they are seldom given an opportunity to accompany their supervisors/seniors to courts for the reason that it is more conducive an environment for men than women.

Drawing from my own experience of working at a law firm, it was very firmly suggested to me that I not accompany the seniors to courts as I would become a ‘liability/burden’ upon them as they will have to ‘take care of me’. Hence, women have to break the ‘gender barrier’ to enter and establish themselves in the profession which only adds to their set of challenges.

The legal profession it seems has still not been able to break free from this society’s’ roots in patriarchy. Hence, we believe that for a profession whose guiding tenets are equity in treatment and elimination of bias, law appears to be failing its women.

  • Discouragement

This challenge at a domestic level is interconnected with the gender-stereotyping issue (as discussed above) in the Pakistani society as to what may or may not be an acceptable career path for women. As Ms. Nida Aftab, one of the panelists for our first session in the Women in Law Dialogue Series rightly pointed out, that while there is little or no discouragement at the time of pursuing the law degree, the discouragement does come afterwards when it is time to actually put the degree to use and practice. This is perhaps the most hypocritical notion behind an aspiring female lawyer’s career ambition as it has the tendency to alter the approach with which a female student sees her law degree.

We believe that a paradigm shift is necessary in the mindset of our families so that they start seeing our law degree as more than just a qualification that we need for the world to see; that it is indeed our tool to participate as able members of the Pakistani workforce and not just as a tag or valuation of our academic worth.

  • Lack of Networking Opportunities

This is another baggage of the relatively conservative society that Pakistan has been. As Ms. Zoe Richards, one of our panelists observed that the legal profession has not developed any method to develop a comfort zone between men and women like the medical profession has through its interactive curricula, practical training sessions and house jobs. Barring a few elitist law schools which are considered ‘liberal’ in their standards, majority of educational institutions remain segregated. Even if they are co-educational, boys and girls do not gel in well together and rather keep to their own space.

Additionally, as Ms. Anooshay Shaigan and several other panelists also identified, there are separate bar rooms for males and females due to which women are marginalized and do not get a chance to network with their male counterparts or develop the kind of associations with their seniors as the men do. They identified this as a big challenge because until women are enabled to break this barrier and allowed to develop a comfort zone with their male counterparts they will continue to miss out on opportunities of growth.

  • Lack of Training Opportunities

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as a concept is seriously missing from the legal realm in Pakistan and it is a pity that the recent Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules 2015 also fail to recognize, endorse or lay down any rules for inculcating CPD within the legal structure in Pakistan. As a result, there is a serious lack of training opportunities, in fact little or no opportunities for vocational training exist in the country. This creates a serious hindrance in the growth and development of trained workforce.

The current model of training in place is based on the apprenticeship model, which places juniors under the command of a senior professional whom the junior is to shadow and accompany and then miraculously learn everything on the job. This places law firms at an influential position which they are not suited to fulfill, for they have other professional priorities than to devote their time towards the teaching and development of trainees.

  • Economics of a Career in Law

Law like every other profession is pursued ultimately for economic returns, unfortunately most of the junior associates (both male and female) are not guaranteed any stipend or basic salary when they enter the profession. Barring a few exceptions of workers who enter into big corporate law firms, the lawyers who work in the field, in chambers or independently have no basic salary guaranteed to enable them to stand on their own feet and survive in this profession. The women are particularly disadvantaged because of this lack of financial structure as they face even more difficulty in fetching clients because of the gender stereotype that persists in the field.[7]

  • Inherent Division

Not all challenges that women face in the profession are attributable to outsiders. There is also an inherent division amongst women where instead of uniting as one voice to become a force to reckon with, we fall prey to petty politics, and we are pitted against each other so much for the few competitive positions that do exist for women that we are unable to band together and advocate for our own cause. This tendency has resulted in there being almost no potent forum where women can raise their issues as a collective force. This is what leads us to our next issue.

  • Underrepresentation

Our panelists identified that unless women are on the panel making the policy and taking administrative decisions, no real improvement can ensue. Unless they become part of the process and part of the change they wish to see, it will not happen.

  • Social Nuances and Legal Education

One of the panelists raised the pivotal question of whether our legal education was preparing women for litigation and legal practice. Drawing from her own personal experience in one of the best law schools of the country she believed that even the approach of the faculty towards female students, advertently or inadvertently, questions the legitimacy of their opinions and shatters the confidence of their thought process and conclusions.

Women are then more likely to use phrases while answering questions that cast self-doubt on their statements, such as, “I think…”, “Maybe…” etc. whereas the men appear more trained (socially brought up so) to be entitled to their opinion and treat it as a fact, so they tend to use phrases like, “I know…”, “I will tell you” etc. Legal education is the place where such social nuances need to be neutralized so that it prepares a female student for the rigors of the adversarial nature of the profession that law is all about, on an equal footing and not as someone whose doubts have been endorsed, so the onus is on how faculty members ensure this neutralization of validation of opinions.

Particular Challenges for Women in Litigation

  • Perception, Bias and Attitude

In addition to the general challenges identified above, women in litigation face several other peculiar challenges and obstacles for them seem to exist on every front. From the moment they are interviewed by their employer to the minute they stand before the court to argue, if at all, and before clients or court staff, women in litigation have to constantly justify their worth. It is a matter of perception that between a male or female, the senior lawyer, judge, court staff, client and even the munshi (clerk) will have more faith and trust in the male over the female and this perception will not be based on the actual competence of the two, but on the patriarchal baggage that we as a society carry on. As Ms. Nida Aftab identified, she found it most difficult to get her clients to make eye contact with her and acknowledge her presence during meetings.

Ms. Azmeh Khan, another one of our panelists and head of the legal department at Highnoon Laboratories, shared a similar experience while working as an in-house counsel. She found dealing with male colleagues challenging, especially those over the age of 40 who would disregard her first for lack of experience and then for being a woman.

As a society we have deep-rooted preconceived notions which hinder our ability to treat an individual as a professional in a gender-neutral way.

  • Marginalization

Marginalization starts from the minute you apply to a law firm to until you are as popular as Asma Jahangir or Justice(r) Nasira Iqbal (which happens very rarely). This marginalization is moved by gender stereotyping whereby women are handed down certain ‘gender suited’ tasks during an entire case i.e. those limited to legal research and drafting. As Ms. Zainab Malik of Justice Project Pakistan rightly pointed out, behind every successful law firm, there is an entire floor of female associates restricted to legal research and drafting, so despite all their efforts, who ends up going to courts? The male counterparts! Hence, it is very clear that despite hard work, women are marginalized and have lesser exposure to opportunities for growth and development as compared to men.

  • Environment and Harassment

The panelists agreed with the overall perception that the environment of courts and legal practice arenas was not conducive for women.

They are stared at, intimated or overwhelmed, made to feel out of place and yet have to learn to accept and deal with this since no proper forum exists where such concerns may be raised and addressed.

Once, an official actually complained to me about why women pursue legal practice over academia (which women have traditionally preferred) and therefore reduce the share of their (men’s) pie especially when they are not even ‘serious long term contenders’ in the game! To that I replied, “Your pie will never shrink if you do what you must in all sincerity and with all hard work.”

  • Logistical Issues

Courts are not designed and developed in a way conducive from a logistical angle. The male and female bar rooms are segregated for instance, so women are distanced from opportunities of growth and networking. Furthermore, this segregation does not promote a comfortable working equation between males and females which is necessary to work together and is true for any field and any profession. Secondly, the facilities such as restrooms are scarcely limited and “located on one end of the court building”. This makes the environment very inconvenient for lawyers in general and women in particular.

  • Misconception Towards Litigation

Perhaps the biggest challenge women have towards litigation is the fact that from the minute they step into law school, the entire social fabric starts creating a misconception around the whole exercise of going to courts and dealing with people and other logistical and general challenges that we have identified above that they make it sound like an entire mountain which cannot be conquered. Those misconceptions from an early age have a very deep impact because from day one, women are made to believe as if they do not belong there.

They study their law and complete their degrees and even graduate, all under the misguided notion of courts not being a befitting place for them to be at. This seriously hampers and influences their career choices when in fact the reality is that litigation and court practice is not half the mountain it is made out to be. Ms. Zainab Malik, one of the panelists, vehemently believes that the existing quality of litigation in general is “quite frankly not too great while women can do better”.

She believes that women should be acclimatized to the court and field environment during law school years so that they can experience it first hand and be comfortable with the zone they would be operating in, just like medical schools make their students undergo house jobs in clinics and hospitals to give them an idea of their workplace. The lack of exposure has to be countered and we must at once discontinue the practice of shunning women from the idea of going to courts.

Opportunities for Women in Law

Despite the challenges that women face in the legal profession, the number of female law students and graduates is increasing every year. Not only are young female law students outshining their male counterparts in university examinations but majority of them are also opting for innovative and non-traditional career options in law, such as research and publishing, media and rights advocacy, academia and training, digital rights, youth volunteer organizations and many other fields.

The opportunities seem to be endless, as a lot of women are even involved in establishing their own initiatives including, but not limited to, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), the Justice Project Pakistan (JPP), the Lahore Education and Research Network (LEARN), Qanoon Bolta Hai, a legal rights show (on Pakistan Television Network) and the likes.

Even in the field of litigation, women are slowly but surely making their mark and have reported a changing and encouraging attitude by some members of the judiciary who support female lawyers with a welcoming approach when they appear in cases before them. Family laws and intellectual property areas seem to be popular options among women and are witnessing a growing number of female lawyers.[8]

Women are also slowly reaching senior managerial positions in their respective firms and are even joining in as partners in some of the firms for both civil and criminal sides. The Justice Project Pakistan is a prime example of this, as is Courting The Law (Pakistan’s first legal news and analysis portal) and Mandviwala and Zafar, one of the prominent partners of which is Ms. Huma Ijaz.[9]

In-house corporate counsel has also been a position that women have been more comfortable exploring in Pakistan because the multinational culture is more conducive to the circumstances of women in Pakistan. One of our panelists for the first session, Ms. Azmeh Khan heads the legal department at Highnoon Laboratories. Also prominent amongst the attendees of the session was Ms. Muntaha Iqbal who heads the legal department at Worldcall.

Likewise, the Research Society of International Law (RSIL) and other similar development and research related organizations have women featuring in prominent positions. Ms. Maira Sheikh, a senior research fellow at RSIL as well as Ms. Amna Warsi and Ms. Ayesha Warsi (both Vice Presidents at RSIL) are doing phenomenal work in creating opportunity in legal and policy input on international law related matters.

Of course these are all examples of the relatively recent accomplishments of young women lawyers in Pakistan. This does not however reduce the importance and significance of the role played and the example set by the very senior and respected Ms. Asma Jahangir and Ms. Hina Jilani as well as Justice(r) Nasira Iqbal and sitting judge of the High Court Justice Ayesha A. Malik and many others who have struggled for the rule of law in Pakistan.

Given the technological advancements and growing awareness of global trends, opportunities are limitless and waiting to be capitalized upon. If you can dream it, if you can imagine it, then you can also realize it. Women are taking charge of their own career trajectories and are increasingly investing more and more into their passion. They are channelizing their law degrees towards unique and innovative opportunities or are otherwise creating the opportunity where none previously existed.

We are only encouraged by such examples and are happy to be living in times where all of this is possible.

Part Three – Recommendations for Reform and Development towards a more inclusive Legal Profession

The Women in Law Dialogue Series highlighted the inequalities inherent within the legal profession as well as issues of perception and social dynamics that are likely to put female lawyers at a disadvantage resulting in them facing greater challenges and obstacles to growth. It also helped in giving voice to the female lawyers’ community and provided for them to identify areas and routes for reform that is aimed at securing a more inclusive environment for them in the profession.

Some of the recommendations put forward by the panelists are as follows:

  • Early Training and Specialized Workshops

Our panelists believe that women should be introduced to litigation and be taught the requisite techniques during the course of their law degrees.[10] In this regard, the practice of conducting law moots by law schools is commendable, however, we believe that training in legal practice should also be imparted on a more institutionalized and generalized pattern so that all students can take the benefit of such courses/exercises equally.

Furthermore, Ms. Zainab Malik highlighted the importance and role of law clinics that allow real-time exposure to law students into what legal practice is like. Most law schools abroad provide for such in-house opportunities for their students, however the trend is yet to catch on in Pakistani schools.

In addition to the role that educational institutions can play in the grooming of their students, we believe that special courses and workshops should be developed and organized by the bar councils and other forums to impart quality legal training to young graduates in addition to the inadequate and typical ‘apprenticeship’ model currently in place that does very little to aid the development of a junior lawyer, especially female entrants.

These training workshops should be flexible and frequent as well as accessible to all. It is ideal if the use of technology can be made to reach a wider audience at a distance if need be. In this regard, efforts by the former Secretary of Lahore High Court Bar Association, Barrister Muhammad Ahmad Qayyum are to be lauded. He introduced specialized lectures during his tenure and recorded them to be made readily available as references for junior lawyers starting out in the profession.[11] Although these lectures fill the void that the dearth of quality legal books has left in the profession, more work at an institutional level to impart such vocational trainings  still needs to be done.

  • Inculcating Language Skills

Despite the ruling of the Supreme Court to adopt Urdu as the official language,[12] the fact remains that most of our archival laws are in English, as is most of the teaching that is imparted to students in the law schools while the language of the court as well as of the staff and the F.I.Rs and orders, etc. are predominantly in (very technical) Urdu. Ms. Zainab Malik was therefore of the opinion that there should be focus on training in the language of the court as well so that the capacity to understand the proceedings and communicate with the staff effectively, can be enhanced.

  • Chamber Governance System and a Mentor-Mentee Programme

Ms. Zoe Richards rightly pointed out that our law firms lack any transparent structure within which entrants/junior lawyers are to be received. In other words, it is an unregulated and arbitrary profession which creates a lot of hurdles for women in particular. She highlighted how the skill sets of women are systematically marginalized because of the stereotyping of roles female lawyers are expected to play in the firm. They are expressly utilized for drafting plaints and other documents and frequently denied to present the same in courts owing to their gender. This is perhaps the biggest impediment for women in the profession.

She recommends that (a) a chamber governance system should be introduced to ensure equal access to opportunities for all employees in the firm as well as (b) a mentor-mentee program through which on-field training is imparted to junior lawyers, including female lawyers, in a more structured and result-oriented fashion and one in which the mentor is actually made responsible for the growth of his or her mentee.[13] A change in the approach is what is required, a change in the regulation of the profession is what is due, as she rightly states that, “Reform will only come when you ask for it.”

  • Acclimatizing Men and Women

For any real reform to ensue it is necessary and important to train even the men in the profession, both at an academic level as well as at a professional level. Ms. Maryam Haq believes that male professors should be made to adopt a gender-balanced approach while teaching the students.

Considering our society is still very conservative, where men and women do not freely interact, it is essential that men be acclimatized to work professionally with their female counterparts just as much as it is necessary to acclimatize the females to work with their male counterparts.

The comfort level that we see in the medical profession between doctors is because of similar acclimatization that they go through during their education and training and we feel that is greatly lacking in the legal profession. If we can ensure a similar comfortable and professional working environment between men and women, then most of the challenges that women face are likely to ease out.

  • Quotas

On the controversial question of fixing quotas in the profession for the judiciary and the bar council, our panelists seem to support it, even if temporarily, so that the system can self-correct and restore balance. Ms. Maryam in particular believes that only when you ensure balance through law and quotas is when you will actually start giving equal opportunities to women.

Ms. Zainab further added that since there is a lack of female role models and very few women have ever reached positions of influence and importance in the profession, the society at large and your male colleagues do not see you as, say, the next Chief Justice of Pakistan. She insists that there should be quotas and reserved seats for women even in the higher judiciary because these are political appointments, and given the current social and professional scenario she does not see women being politically appointed to the same any time soon.

Until women start having a say in the policies that affect them, they will continue to be marginalized and ignored, so more women should participate in bar politics, as Ms. Rabbiya Bajwa did too. We cannot expect any reform to ensue unless we make it happen.

  • Minimum Wage

Ms. Rabbiya Bajwa highlighted the plight of female lawyers in securing work and clients and even jobs with law firms. She recommends that through legislation, a basic right to stipend should be ensured to them so that they can pursue this profession with some economic return during their struggling years. She believes that the bar council should have a system in place whereby such stipend be established and handed down to all deserving candidates in order to enable them to pursue the profession.

  • Flexible Work Arrangements

Keeping in line with global trends as well as recognizing the domestic responsibilities of women, it is crucial to introduce flexible work arrangements in the professional culture of Pakistan. Flexible work arrangements have been introduced in more developed countries and have contributed to the economic growth and output as they have enabled a talented pool of human resources to participate in the job market. Flexible work arrangements are not the same as part time work which denotes a lesser commitment. Flexible work is more about achieving the outcome rather than documenting a set number of hours in a set working place, and with the advent of technology, providing similar platforms and opportunities in Pakistan should no longer be a problem.

  • Addressing Stereotypes, Bias and Harassment

The legislature, bar councils, education providers as well as women themselves should collectively work towards the elimination of bias and harassment via awareness sessions, capacity building, constructive dialogues, exchange of ideas and equal access to opportunities. Women too need to work hard and be disciplined and approach their careers with professionalism in order to seek maximum benefits from any professional opportunities that come their way.

  • Social mobilization and media campaigns

In order to bring about a paradigm shift, media plays a very strong role in getting the message across to the masses. We believe they have the power to highlight women in law as well and play their role in promoting our call for a more gender-inclusive attitude and acceptance within the society at large.

  • Family Support

Last, but not the least, we encourage the families of female law students to encourage their daughters, sisters, wives and mothers to find their respective niche within the legal profession and explore all the myriad of opportunities, both traditional and non-traditional (whatever may suit their circumstances and interest), that this field has to offer its candidates.

Women shouldn’t be dispelled just because they are women, nor should they be discouraged just because they are women. If you can give them an education in law, then also support them in this noble profession in a way that they can channelize their hard work to help others in return.


The Women in Law Dialogue Series initiated a much neglected conversation in our society and exposed many of the challenges that female lawyers and law graduates face during the course of their academic and professional life. Although it highlighted the more recent opportunities that have surfaced particularly in the stream of non-traditional legal careers such as digital rights, legal journalism, media, etc. the fact remains that women still have to face a number of obstacles owing to their gender, thus a profession that envisages equality for all, appears to be failing its women.

We believe that a unanimous and collective effort at every step and every level is required to pave way towards a more inclusive legal profession, from legal education providers to professors, to women themselves, as well as legislatures and bar councils. The families and the society at large, all need to play their respective roles in bringing about any real reform.

We hope that with continued support from friends within the fraternity and outside of it as well, we will continue to work towards this initiative and take the debate forward to bigger platforms. We also look forward to operationalize the dialogue and translate our words into action.



[1] Pakistan ranks at 147 out of 195 countries in terms of its gender inequality on the UN Gender Inequality Index with only 24.6 % women participating in the labour market as compared to 82.9 % men page 240.

[2] As highlighted by the World Economic Forum, with women making up more than half of those entering the legal profession…maximizing access to female talent is a strategic imperative for business. Any firm or organization not aiming for gender-diverse leadership is limiting its pool of available talent and also missing out on clear business benefits


[4] The Women in Law Dialogue Series however, continues to be a flagship series of Lahore Education and Research Network and it will cover several independent workshops, seminars, open-mics and other inclusive public events to highlight particular aspects of the issues involved in the struggle to secure a more welcoming and conducive environment for women in law in Pakistan in the days to come.

[5] This session was recorded and is available online at and

[6]; and;

[7] As per Ms. Rabbiya Bajwa ASC, in Women in Law Session 2

[8] A leading IP law firm Irfan and Irfan for instance has a floor full of female advocates that work on IP laws and related matters. One of their former associates is Barrister Azmeh Ihsan who is now setting up her own firm also focusing on IP laws.

[9] Other law firms that have women in senior positions include (but are not limited to), Axis Law Chambers, Saleem, Alam and Co, Liaquat Merchant Associates, Ismat Law Associates etc.

[10] Ms. Maryam Haq, panelist for Session 2


[12] Const.P. No 56 of 2003, E dt 3-9-15



The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of or any organization with which she might be associated.

Nida Usman Chaudhary

Author: Nida Usman Chaudhary

The writer is the founder of Lahore Education and Research Network and can be reached at [email protected]