More seats in courts ‘to give women access to justice’

Speakers call for abolishing parallel judicial systems, building post-relief monitoring mechanisms


News Desk February 26, 2019

Want to give women greater access to justice, give them more seats in the courts even as the judicial infrastructure struggles with the crushing weight of cases.

This was stated by experts, retired jurists during a seminar on the role of the judiciary in promoting greater access for women to justice in Pakistan. The seminar had been organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with UN-Women in Islamabad on Monday.

Justice (retd) Nasira Javed Iqbal said that before anything else, there was a need to restore the Constitution in its original shape by removing the clauses inserted into it by dictators and then bring in the requisite amendments.

She said that there were so many laws in our constitution that, if implemented effectively, can prove to be instrumental in providing a remedy to victims, especially women.

To rescue and remedy the oppressed women, there was a need to prioritise cases of female victims over other criminal cases, she added.

“We all have the responsibility to strive for a society where one should respect humanity above creed and class.”

Justice (retd) Iqbal explained that to include women in society and make them an effective part of it, there was a need to include women in the decision-making process.

In this regard, she said that the media has a very important role to play and was equal to the other three pillars of the state — executive, legislature, judiciary — in promoting women’s access to justice.

“Media should give ample time to discuss the issues of women, which in turn will help raise awareness amongst the public about women and human rights,” she stressed.

National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz lamented that there was no follow-up mechanism which would ensure that female victims are protected after the remedy.

“We need to think beyond the relief and monitor the victim’s safety and security. Also, there is a greater need to raise awareness amongst the public about their constitutional rights,” she added.

Rights activist Tahira Abdullah said the role of the judiciary cannot be judged in isolation because it shares a nexus with society and governance system.

She said there was not only a need to ensure greater female participation in the judiciary but also in every sector, especially in the police service.

“It is unfortunate our judicial system has severe issues of tampering with evidence, witnesses, and medico-legal reports etc., which lead to the failure of the entire judicial system and requires immediate intervention,” she remarked.

Abdullah also advocated abandoning the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system, claiming that evidence suggests it provides no remedy or justice to the victim, especially when the victim is a woman.

She also stressed the need for mainstreaming the issues of the women and the transgender community.

Lawyer and rights campaigner Benazir Jatoi said that impartial justice, access to courts, honest legal procedure, effective legal process, effective execution and affordable justice are major components of access to justice.

She said that provision of women rights should come with a mechanism which could address the violations of rights.

“We have a framework that exists in our constitution which protects our rights but needs effective implementation,” she said, adding that legal pluralism and an informal judicial system could not work simultaneously in Pakistan, where the apex court in 2006 has already declared that the jirga and panchayat systems as illegal.

To counter this legal pluralism, commissions, such as NCSW should be given suo-moto powers, especially in cases where women are victims, she stressed.

“There is a need to realise women as a part of the society and not as a separate entity,” she stressed.

Transgender rights activist Nayyab Ali Khan said that despite the progress made on the legal front, the transgender community remains excluded from the society. She urged the government to ensure the provision of their constitutional rights and provide safety in the country.

SDPI Research Fellow Dr Shafqat Munir said there were multiple factors at different levels of society which make women’s access to justice more difficult including structural, systemic, social and economic barriers.

These barriers include lack of access, lack of economic resources, lack of social and family support, stigmatization, lack of women representation in the judiciary, lack of law enforcement and the general inefficiency of the country’s judicial system, among others.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2019.

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