The writer shares her perspective on the difficulties faced by woman lawyers while making their mark in a male dominated profession.
Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan states that all citizens are equal before the law, are entitled to equal protection of the law, and therefore, there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender. Yet when a female aspires to become a lawyer, it is common to hear demotivating and discouraging remarks like: “Law? But isn’t law a males’ profession?” “That is a guy’s job, no?” “Why choose a male profession?”
Ironically in Pakistan, the very system, i.e. the Judicial System, which is meant to guarantee equality, is male dominated, plagued with patriarchal norms and orthodox misogynist rhetoric. All this combined makes it difficult for females to excel in the law profession.
Male domination in the legal profession is evidenced by low number of female justices in lower, appellate and high courts, practicing female lawyers and law clerks and court staff. Therefore, a Pakistani girl aspiring to be a lawyer should be wary of circumstances which might make it more difficult for her to excel in the field.
First is finding good-paying jobs in reputable law firms. It is difficult to find a good job opportunity in a reputable law firm, which offers a safe learning environment and equal opportunity. Women, who are successful in securing paying jobs in law firms, mostly fail to acquire comprehensive and extensive experience.
Stereotyping by male lawyers is very common in the professional field, which leads male colleagues to doubt a female lawyer’s professional competence. They are generally confined to in-house research, instead of court room experience; thus, they lack in gaining fruitful litigation and trial experience.
Further more, female lawyers are often mistreated and harassed by male lawyers, law officials, and judges. Most female lawyers complain they are not treated professionally and their colleagues refuse to take them seriously, stare them down, and use bullying tactics on them.
Moreover, male lawyers deliberately assign more work to female lawyers, justifying it by stating that this is the only means through which they can learn. In extreme scenarios, female lawyers also face sexual harassment at their workplace, including instances of physical and verbal harassment at law firms and court rooms.
In addition to this, lawyers need an extensive network to excel and succeed in their professional field as all this helps the firm to increase its clientele and generate more income for the firm. But since men have a bigger social circle as compared to women in Pakistan, they have additional prospects and opportunities to network with clients as compared to women. This inexorably encourages firms to appoint male lawyers over female lawyers. All of these factors, combined, put female lawyers at a disadvantage.
Even if the future for female lawyers is bleak, female lawyers and those training to be lawyers, must share the responsibility and raise their voices for equality. They should work hard to ensure that judicial appointments are conferred upon them on merit rather than as a charity by the male gender.