Walking into the bar room in the District Court in Swat, the sight of a woman actively discussing cases with a throng of male lawyers was more than unusual, rather in a profession dominated by men, it was unheard of.
That woman was Saima Anwar, the first woman ever to pursue a career in law from Malakand Division. Anwar completed her LLB from Muslim Law College Swat and is now working on her six-month apprenticeship at District Court Swat.
The Swat Valley, which recently passed through militancy and floods, became a symbol of uncertainty and backwardness, as schools were closed and female educational institutions were attacked. However, despite all these challenges, a female lawyer has emerged with a strong belief to protect the fairer sex from the injustices they are suffering.
“Women are generally considered backward and vulnerable in our society. This strengthened my resolve to serve as an example for other women. There is a strong need for women to come forward in all fields of life,” said Anwar.
“Our society is entirely male-oriented and puts more emphasis on culture as compared to religion. People often misinterpret religion in our society, due to which women are often exploited by the opposite sex,” she remarked.
As an example, she referred to the difficulty in proving responsibility in divorce cases. “Even in court, a divorced woman cannot claim her marriage settlement back as she cannot prove anything against her husband,” she said.
“Ignorance and illiteracy were the main reasons behind women’s initial support towards Fazlullah’s Taliban,” she said, adding that women will continue to be exploited in a similar manner until and unless they are educated.
She further said that a practical role for women in Swat was nonexistent, as certain segments of society did not want women to enjoy equal status. “Even though hundreds of women want to come forward to work and study, men impose restrictions on them. Islam lays great emphasis on female education. Unfortunately, even though we love our religion, we do not bother to understand it,” she explained.
Responding to a question, Saima said that the silence of women was the main cause of evil in society and there was a need for women to break this tradition and fight for their rights. “There are several women who have attained a degree in law, but they are not allowed to practice, due to which their knowledge is wasted.”
She also hoped that her story sends an open message to the world that the people of Swat are not radicals.
Regarding the difficulties she faced, she said that even though the majority of her colleagues were helpful, certain people did show professional jealousy. “However, I will not back down. My parents always encouraged me and now I have finally become a lawyer,” she added.
Saima’s is living proof that women can accomplish anything if they put their minds to it. Her decision to choose a field which was entirely male-dominated serves as a great example for women to break the glass ceiling and come forward in all sectors of life.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2011.
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