Friday, April 12, 2019

Courtrooms in Pakistan, it’s a man’s world

A young lawyer writes about the gender bias women face in Pakistani courtrooms, from judges, the opposing counsel, clients and their own colleagues

File photo 

When a female lawyer calls out a man for discriminating based on gender, the standard defence is: “Not all men are like that.” But most are, and that is troubling enough.

A female lawyer’s experience in Pakistani courtrooms and law firms is drastically different from that of her male colleagues. Women are often advised to either develop a thick skin or leave the profession altogether. Such recommendations come from senior female lawyers, who seem to have accepted their fate.

I am a woman. I am a lawyer. If I am fighting for someone else’s rights in the courtroom, why should I leave mine at the doorstep?

The discrimination starts right from the beginning, as soon as a woman enters the legal profession. In the first interview, female lawyers are asked about their marital status, to determine their commitment to the job. No one asks the men about their marriage plans.

Later on, the women are told to choose between a fulfilling career or a family life.

Law firms in Pakistan are not even structured to take a woman’s needs and circumstances into account. Litigation is strenuous, but it should not require a lawyer to stay back at the firm at ungodly hours. Male lawyers have social acceptance to stay out late and their wives or mothers take care of their house chores, which allows them to dedicate their time to the profession, while female lawyers have neither.

Then, there are the routine demeaning comments. Men - lawyers, judges and clients - rarely take female lawyers seriously. In some instances, male judges would pass remarks about a female lawyer’s attire or makeup.

It is time to change the environment to make it conducive for women. Don’t tell the women to toughen up, tell the men to back off.

Adnan is studying law in Lahore.