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.
Malik, 55, attended a ceremony in the capital Islamabad where she now sits on the bench alongside 16 male colleagues at Pakistan’s highest court.
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“It’s a huge step forward,” lawyer and women’s rights activist Nighat Dad told the AFP news agency. “It is history in the making for Pakistan’s judiciary.”
Historic. Justice Ayesha Malik takes oath as the first ever woman judge of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. Also a symbol of how women’s struggles over the past four decades have pushed back patriarchal structures and gender stereotypes.
Long way to go but small victories matter. 👏🏽 pic.twitter.com/cI3nUV2Ar0
— Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) January 24, 2022
Malik was educated at Harvard University and served as a high court judge in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore for the past two decades.
She has been credited with rolling back patriarchal legal mores in her Punjab province jurisdiction.
Last year, she outlawed a deeply invasive and medically discredited virginity test used on women who reported being raped or sexually assaulted.
Women in Pakistan struggle for justice in rape and sexual assault cases and the test was seen as a way for investigating authorities to discredit victims by casting aspersion on their character.
Malik’s elevation to the apex court of Pakistan may clear the way for more women to enter the historically conservative and male-dominated judiciary of the Muslim-majority republic.
“She has broken all barriers in the judicial system and it will allow other women in the system to move forward,” said lawyer and women’s rights activist Khadija Siddiqi.
“I hope this will lead to more women-centric decisions by the judiciary in the future.”
But her appointment has been mired in controversy for the past four months, with claims she jumped a queue of more senior male candidates qualified for the post.
Earlier this month, the Pakistan Bar Council staged a strike to protest against Malik’s nomination.