In Pakistan: Women, Mediation, and the Law
July 7, 2021
Increasingly urban and increasingly online, the economic landscape of Pakistan is rapidly evolving, and with it the gender norms for women’s occupations. The legal profession is a case in point. Women still face unique challenges practicing law in Pakistan, yet their numbers in the profession continue to grow. In 2019, a conference of women judges, co-organized by The Asia Foundation in the province of Punjab, drew around 400 female judges. At the same time, new avenues for women’s access to justice have appeared on the horizon. A nationwide system of dedicated courts, for example, has now been established to provide speedy, gender-sensitive justice for victims of gender-based violence.
Another sign of change is the growing popularity of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) instead of burdensome court proceedings, an alternative that is attracting a growing number of women practitioners. A large proportion of disputes referred to ADR involve women and relate to issues such as inheritance, marriage, and child custody, and women can be extremely effective in this setting resolving family and community disputes. To support this trend, The Asia Foundation’s project Mainstreaming Alternative Dispute Resolution for Equitable Access to Justice in Pakistan includes ADR training for women in academia, in the legal profession, and in their communities.
The Foundation has partnered with the law schools of several academic institutions to help them incorporate the study of ADR into their undergraduate law programs and to support academic research in the subject. Dr. Warda Yasin, assistant professor at the International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI), describes the ADR course developed by the Foundation as insightful for teachers and students alike. “As an instructor of the course, I got to explore new dimensions and teaching perspectives in this field. The keenness of students has been quite encouraging and has motivated us to introduce research projects,” she says. With the Foundation’s support, one of the country’s premier institutions of higher learning, Kinnaird College for Women (KCW), has developed a new research journal, Mainstreaming ADR with a Special Focus on Mediation, covering a wide range of ADR studies by professors and student researchers.
Umat-Ur-Rehman Shafqat, a post-graduate student at IIUI, describes the ADR curriculum as a holistic learning experience. Apart from broadening her conceptual understanding, she says, the course has given her valuable life skills. At a grueling admissions interview for her master’s program, she recalls, “I noticed myself unknowingly employing mediation techniques when my responses were being challenged. I used them as a secret power to advance my case.”
Graduates of the Foundation’s partner law schools report that ADR skills have stood them in good stead in the legal profession. Yumna Kamran is a graduate of KCW and is currently in legal practice as an advocate. She has found the practical component of the ADR training especially beneficial to her career. “Simulation exercises have played a key role in developing my advocacy skills,” she says. “Thanks to the professional training I received, I am now able to tackle challenging assignments.” The young lawyer also considers ADR to be an effective way to serve her clients. “The primary obligation of a lawyer is to get the best results for the client. ADR is often in the client’s best interest and can save them time and money. Beyond that, it helps in the administration of an efficient legal system.”
ADR is rapidly gaining acceptance in Pakistan. The Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2017, the Code of Civil Procedure (Sindh Amendment) of 2018, and the Punjab Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of 2019 have given ADR a firm legislative mandate. The practice is expanding across the country, helping disputing parties to bypass the severely backlogged courts and creating more opportunities for mediators, including a growing number of women, who have specialized training in ADR.
Atifa Awan, a young woman enrolled in the ADR course at the IIUI law school, underlines the program’s potential to improve the employment prospects of newly minted lawyers. “Given the soaring popularity of ADR, it could certainly be a lucrative career choice for law students in the future. Aspiring lawyers and judges now have another option they may wish to consider: becoming mediators or arbitrators,” she says.
Syed Abbas Hussain is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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