Pakistan Gets First Woman Supreme Court Judge Despite Top Judges' Opposition

Judge Ayesha Malik has been confirmed as Pakistan's first woman Supreme Court judge in the face of strong opposition by the majority of sitting judges of the top court and Pakistan Bar Council. It was two  affirmative votes by the PTI government representatives that helped her win 5-4 confirmation in the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC). Only two of the five sitting Supreme Court judges who are members of the SJC supported her confirmation. 

Justice Ayesha Malik

The historic nomination of Justice Ayesha Malik was supported by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed,  Justice Umar Ata Bandial, ex-judge Sarmad Jalal Osmany, Law Minister Barrister Farogh Naseem and Attorney General (AG) Khalid Jawed Khan. It was opposed by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Justice Maqbool Baqar, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood and Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) representative Akhtar Hussain opposed the selection.    

Justice Ayesha Malik is a Harvard Law School graduate. She started her legal career working with Mr. Fakhurddin G. Ebrahim at Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim & Co. in Karachi in 1997. Then in 2001 she joined the law practice of Rizvi, Isa, Afridi and Agnell as the head of the firm's Corporate & Litigation Department in Lahore. Justice Ayesha Malik was appointed to the Lahore High Court in 2012 where she made a historic ruling banning the "two-finger test" in rape cases.  Justice Malik said the test was "humiliating" and had "no forensic value".     

Justice Malik's appointment to the nation's highest court is part of a silent social revolution in Pakistan with a rising number of women joining the workforce and moving up in public and private institutions. However, the status of women in Pakistan continues to vary considerably across different classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and urban social customs on women's lives. While some women are soaring in the skies as pilots of passenger jets and supersonic fighter planes, others are being murdered for defying tribal traditions.  

Female Labor Participation Rates in South Asia

Pakistan's female labor force participation rate (22%) has recently surpassed the rate in India (21%) but still remains very low relative to the global average of 47%. Women's education and literacy levels remain low in Pakistan but the gender gap is declining in terms of literacy rates and mean years of schooling, according to Pakistan Labor Force Survey 2017-18.  There is about a one year gap between men and women in terms of education attained. On average, a Pakistani male born after 1995 will leave school in 8th grade. A female born at the same time will leave in 7th grade.

A 2020 global survey conducted by Payoneer, a global payments platform company based in Silicon Valley, showed that Pakistani women freelancers are earning $22 an hour, 10% more than the $20 an hour earned by men. While Pakistani male freelancers earnings are at par with global average, Pakistani female earnings are higher than the global average for freelancers. Digital gig economy is not only helping women earn more than men but it is also reducing barriers to women's labor force participation in the country. The survey also concludes that having a university degree does not help you earn more in the growing gig economy. The survey was conducted in 2015.

Freelancers Hourly Rate by Gender. Source: Payoneer

An average Pakistani freelancer working 34 hours a week at $20 an hour earns $34,000 a year, or Rs. 5.7 million a year, a small fortune for a young Pakistani. This is one of the upsides of the online global labor market for skilled young men and women in developing nations like Pakistan. Sometimes freelancing experience leads to tech startups in Pakistan.


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