A step forward

Published March 31, 2023

ALTHOUGH her post is temporary at the moment, Justice Musarrat Hilali has nevertheless made history by being nominated as the first female chief justice of the Peshawar High Court. She will hold the position of acting chief justice until her nomination is — hopefully — confirmed by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan. Justice Hilali’s elevation follows the historic appointment last year of Justice Ayesha Malik as the Supreme Court’s first female judge. The new PHC CJ has had a distinguished career as a lawyer and held other senior public offices. She has also been a strong advocate for human rights. If she is made the permanent chief justice, she would be only the second woman to head a provincial high court, after Justice Syeda Tahira Safdar took oath as Balochistan High Court CJ in 2018. Justice Hilali’s nomination may appear as only a drop in the ocean. Yet given the anti-women attitudes that prevail in Pakistan, this is no small victory, especially considering that she and Justice Safdar managed to reach the highest judicial post in Balochistan and KP, which are regarded as Pakistan’s most conservative provinces.

The presence of more female judges in the lower judiciary as well as in the high courts can help women secure justice. While justice is indeed supposed to be blind, as Justice Ayesha Malik has noted, bringing a “gender perspective” to the courtroom is important. Moreover, in a male-dominated society like Pakistan, where, in many places, females are viewed as chattel, a woman heading a courtroom sends a powerful message. More women should be encouraged to enter the legal profession, and the barriers standing in the way of their career growth and their place on the bench need to be removed. In particular, a women-friendly atmosphere — accommodative of female judges, lawyers and litigants — needs to be created in the lower courts, where the bulk of cases are filed.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2023

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