Unbecoming remarks

Updated January 24, 2018

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SEXISM runs through the very veins of this society: it hobbles women’s potential and thwarts their aspirations.

In short, it perpetrates injustice, which is why it is reasonable to expect that at least those heading the institution that dispenses justice would not perpetuate sexism. Sadly, however, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar on Saturday proved otherwise during a recent speech in which he quoted a tasteless remark by Winston Churchill alluding to women’s attire as a benchmark for the length of a good speech.

WAF and the Women Lawyers Association have pushed back with statements denouncing the chief justice’s words for the manner in which they objectify women and repeat tired — yet still potent — references to women’s appearance.

Women have a constitutional right to equality. Yet the hidebound patriarchy in this country ensures that their intelligence and capabilities are constantly undermined and belittled.

Instead, the purpose of their existence is, in the eyes of many, to provide sexual gratification to men, bear their offspring (preferably male) or function as repositories of male honour.

In fact, the public space itself is perceived as a male domain, with women merely interlopers whose ‘modesty’ of attire determines men’s behaviour towards them.

It is these attitudes, which are based on sexism and its close cousin misogyny, that allow for gender discrimination in professional environments, keep the glass ceiling firmly in place and — in their worst manifestation — act as ‘justification’ for domestic violence, sexual harassment and even rape and murder.

The chief justice himself is undoubtedly well aware of the abysmal percentage of women in the legal profession — the boys’ club atmosphere in many professional environments, where casual sexism is a norm, discourages women from taking up careers or assignments that require a public profile.

Female victims of gender-based crime are also reluctant to come forward for similar reasons — invasive questions in court and moral judgements predicated on their appearance and behaviour.

The women of Pakistan expect and deserve better from the highest judicial official in the land.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2018