January 29, 2022 - 9:30 am

Pakistan’s first woman Supreme Court judge

       Pakistan has sworn in Ayesha Malik as its first female Supreme Court judge, a landmark occasion in a nation where activists say the law is often wielded against women. Justice Ayesha Malik, 55, had been selected by a commission that decides on the promotion of judges. As is typical for Supreme Court judges, she was sworn in on live TV, with her oath administered by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad. Pakistan is the only South Asian nation to have never had a female Supreme Court judge, according to Human Rights Watch.

Malik, 55, completed her basic education at schools in Paris, New York, Karachi and London, then earned degrees from the Government College of Commerce & Economics in Karachi, Pakistan College of Law in Lahore and Harvard Law School in the U.S. She worked at two different law firms before becoming a high court judge in the eastern city of Lahore in 2012, according to a court biography. She's also taught banking and mercantile law at various colleges, served as pro bono counsel for NGOs focused on poverty alleviation and contributes to publications including the Oxford Reports on International Law in Domestic Courts. She is also author of a number of publications and has taught banking law at University of the Punjab and mercantile law at the College of Accounting and Management Sciences Karachi. And she's a mother of three.

Malik has appeared as an expert witness in family law cases in England and Australia involving issues of child custody, women's rights and constitutional protection for Pakistani women. She developed a reputation for integrity and discipline on the court, where she helped deliver several landmark verdicts on major constitutional issues, according to The Indian Express. In 2021, for example, the court outlawed the invasive and medically-discredited virginity test performed on women who reported rape or sexual assault, with Malik writing in the 30-page opinion that the practice "offends the dignity of the female victim" and discriminates on the basis of gender.

Despite her credentials, Malik's journey to Pakistan's highest court was not an easy one, in part because she was the fourth-most senior judge on the bench in Lahore. She was appointed to the position last year but was voted down, the BBC reports. This year — when she was nominated to fill a seat made vacant by another judge's retirement in August — the nine-member commission approved her appointment by a 5-4 vote. Some lawyers and judges had voiced their opposition to her appointment in the months ahead of the vote, accusing her of cutting ahead of more senior male candidates. The Pakistan Bar Council even said it would strike, according to Pakistan's Geo TV. The contentious process came to an end on Monday, when Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed administered Malik the oath at a ceremony broadcast on TV. "Justice Ayesha has been appointed on the basis of her merit," he said, according to Geo TV.

Many Pakistani public figures took to social media to offer their praise and congratulations. Prime Minister Imran Khan and Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari acknowledged the historic day in tweets, while Federal Minister for Science & Technology Shibli Faraz called it "an inspirational moment for women of this country. Supporters are cheering the effect that Malik's groundbreaking role could have for women on both sides of the bench. This will have an impact on cases, not specifically those related to gender, but having a woman judge there will be increased confidence among women to access justice and reach out to the courts. She has broken all barriers in the judicial system and it will allow other women in the system to move forward. We hope this will lead to more women-centric decisions by the judiciary in the future.