Meet One of Pakistan’s Pioneering Women Judges
March 27, 2019
The law is a predominantly male profession in Pakistan. While women are now a significant presence in the nation’s law schools, female lawyers are rare, and judges even rarer. The patriarchal culture that prevails in the country generally deems women “unsuited” for the rough and tumble of legal practice, and they are routinely discouraged, in ways both subtle and overt, from joining the profession.
But with determination and persistence, a few women have broken the mold. Shazia Kausar is a judge, and a woman, in Punjab’s Okara district who has defied the gender stereotypes. Her swift ascent in her chosen profession has set an encouraging example for other women in the law.
Kausar’s modest office in Okara buzzes with activity. Ringing phones, clicking keyboards, and the muffled voices of colleagues discussing pressing deadlines can be heard from the adjoining room. Seated behind a gleaming wooden desk, Kausar flips quickly through a tall stack of files and signs a series of documents delivered by her assistant.
“I completed my schooling in Sahiwal,” she recalls, “where I went on to pursue my law degree. For my final exams, though, I had to shift to Lahore, where I stayed with a relative.” Moving to a new city brought its share of difficulties, Kausar says, but driven by her ambition, she immersed herself in her studies.
Her first cases as a young lawyer were personal. In one, she herself was a plaintiff. In another, she represented her father. “My first case involved a dispute over a check; I was on the plaintiff’s side,” she recalls.
She continued to grow professionally as a lawyer, but it was never her true calling. “I became a lawyer out of necessity, but I always harbored the ambition to become a judge. My father, an attorney himself, inspired me as a child, and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
Kausar passed the judiciary exam on her second attempt, and in 2010, her six-year tenure as a lawyer came to an end when she received her appointment to the bench. The work was intense. “Being a judge for two years is like being a lawyer for 40. One judge deals with around 80 cases a day,” she says.
As a legal professional, she says, she has encountered gender discrimination in many forms. It “irks” her, she confides, but says she was determined to prove herself. Owing to the widespread bias against women in the law, there are only a few active female attorneys. “Many people won’t refer cases to a woman, some even going so far as to say, how can a woman resolve a case!” she says. “Even women don’t favor a woman when it comes to selecting a lawyer; they consider men more competent for the task.”
Professional women in Pakistan face many occupational hurdles, and this is no less true in the legal profession. Among them is the overwhelming expectation in Pakistan that even a professional woman must carry the burden of managing the home and looking after children. This can be especially onerous for a judge, who must endure frequent, routine transfers to different postings.
“Even if a woman has a job, she is expected to perform her household duties like a full-time housewife, which puts a lot of pressure on time management. If she is posted outside her city and is living away from her husband, she also has to take on responsibilities traditionally held by men.”
Kausar has also found her work broadening in many ways.
Last year, she traveled to Rome—her first trip overseas—for a master class on alternative dispute resolution (ADR), part of The Asia Foundation’s alternative dispute resolution project. She says the expedition gave her a new perspective on ADR that broadened her intellectual horizons.
“The Rome trip enriched my thinking. I had, of course, already received basic training in ADR, but the master class in Rome introduced new dimensions and exposed me to a different cultural context, which gave me a deeper understanding of the concepts I had studied before.”
Asia Foundation research has found that women like Kausar are particularly effective in resolving family and community disputes, and the Foundation’s ADR project places a special emphasis on recruiting women from law schools and bar associations who can act as champions of women in the justice system. Kausar herself is a strong proponent of ADR as a way to provide quick and affordable justice. “Litigation is time consuming and costly,” she says. “ADR is useful because disputes are resolved once and for all without lengthy and expensive appeals.”
In addition to her own fierce determination, Kausar credits the exceptional support of her husband and her family for her successful career. “After marriage, women in Pakistan generally find it very difficult to keep working. We need the support of our male family members. In my case, my husband, who is also an attorney, pushed me to pursue my dreams, and even as a child, both my mother and father encouraged me to focus on my studies instead of household chores.”
Kausar wants to nurture the same values in her own children. She encourages them to participate in intellectually stimulating activities and to stay focused on education. As she reflects on the prospects for women in the law, her eyes sparkle: “Women should rise and shine!”
Syed Abbas Hussain is The Asia Foundation’s senior program officer for alternative dispute resolution in Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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