PAKISTAN finally has its first female high court chief justice. On Monday, Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar announced that Justice Syeda Tahira Safdar is to head the Balochistan High Court. Having been Balochistan’s first female civil judge as well, Justice Safdar is no stranger to making history. Currently, she is senior puisne judge of the BHC, and was also part of the three-member special court set up to try Gen Pervez Musharraf for treason. Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, the announcement by the chief justice came at the launch of a memoir by retired justice Fakharunnisa Khokhar in which she has written about how she was passed over for promotion as chief justice of the Lahore High Court.
That it has taken 70 years for a woman to head a high court in Pakistan despite several notable names having made it to the superior judiciary — justices Majida Rizvi, Khalida Rasheed Khan, Yasmin Abbasi, among others — is partly due to the discrimination that is inherent in a patriarchal culture. This in turn is also responsible for an often uncivil and misogynistic courtroom environment, especially in the lower courts, which demands tenacity of the highest order from women lawyers and judges. These difficult working conditions have traditionally discouraged many women from entering the legal profession or at least taking on roles within it that require a more public profile such as that of litigation lawyers and judges. It was for good reason that Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, soon after being appointed chief justice LHC, constituted a supervisory committee to look into problems faced by female judicial officers. Despite these obstacles however, women are increasingly entering the legal profession — there is already a fair number of them in the district judiciary. Hopefully, many more will be following in Justice Safdar’s footsteps — and onward to the Supreme Court.
Published in Dawn, July 25th, 2018