Ayesha Malik: Pakistan swears in first female Supreme Court judge in landmark step

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has sworn in its first woman judge in a landmark moment for the judicial history of the conservative Muslim country.

The swearing-in ceremony of Ayesha Malik was held at the apex court in national capital Islamabad on Monday where she now sits on the bench as the only woman alongside 16 male colleagues – a feat being celebrated as the breaking of glass ceiling in Pakistan.

Gulzar Ahmed, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), administered the oath in a hall packed with a large number of Supreme Court judges, attorney generals and lawyers.

In an interaction with reporters after the ceremony, CJP Gulzar said Ms Malik was deserving enough to have been elevated to the position.

He added that no one else except her deserved the elevation.

“She deserved to become a judge of the Supreme Court and that’s why she became one,” he said.

The judge, however, was asked by reporters if the appointment was made on the basis of Ms Malik being a judge or a woman, to which he replied with “woman,” according to several local media reports.

Prime minister Imran Khan also congratulated Ms Malik on the elevation.

“I wish her all the best,” Mr Khan said in a tweet.

The elevation, a defining moment in Pakistan’s struggle for achieving gender equality, has not come without vehement opposition.

Ms Malik’s appointment was mired in controversy for the last four months after bar councils and associations opposed her selection, citing rules of seniority.

Justice Malik held fourth place in terms of seniority in the Lahore High Court after joining in 2012.

The parliamentary committee, that approved the elevation, had set aside the seniority principle. The committee is headed by senator Farooq H Naek of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

“We have approved Justice Ayesha’s name in the national interest,” he said.

Her appointment was celebrated across social media platforms in Pakistan and among activists across the world, hailing the moment as “historic”.

Christian Turner, the British high commissioner to Pakistan, said the elevation “will inspire girls to believe that there are no barriers to their aspirations”.

Raza Ahmad Rumi, a policy analyst and journalist, said the swearing in was symbolic of struggles to push back on patriarchal structures and gender stereotypes in Pakistan.

“Historic. Justice Ayesha Malik takes oath as the first ever woman judge of Pakistan’s Supreme Court,” he said, adding there was a long way to go and small victories mattered.

Justice Malik, who completed her LLB from the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has already won hearts in Pakistan by giving some landmark verdicts during her career.

In June 2021, she outlawed virginity tests for the examination of sexual assault survivors by calling them “illegal and against the Constitution of Pakistan” in a landmark verdict.

Activists are now hoping that her elevation would pave the way for women-centric decisions by the judiciary in a country that has a bad track record for delivering justice to rape and sexual assault survivors and victims.

“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.”