Jacqui Hunt, Global Lead, End Sexual Violence, celebrates Ayesha Malik as part of Equality Now’s 30 for 30, featuring 30 women and changemakers who have played a key role in making equality reality as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations.
Sometimes you have to be brave to be a judge, particularly if you are a woman living in an environment where the legal profession is primarily reserved for men. As a woman, you also have to be exceptional. Ayesha Malik is both. She is the first woman in history to serve on the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Protests erupted last year when Ayesha was nominated to the Supreme Court. Hundreds of male lawyers took to the streets, arguing that her appointment was a violation of Pakistan’s “seniority principle,” a convention that only the most senior judge from a district can be nominated to the Supreme Court. How interesting that this custom only seemed to matter when it was a woman being appointed!
Today, Ayesha’s presence alone on the highest court is a statement that women can achieve high office. Girls now can see what they might want to be and so be inspired that a similar career for themselves is possible. Ayesha will also bring a gendered perspective to her work which will offer some much-needed diversity to legal understanding and help Pakistan’s women and girls feel their experiences will be better reflected and enable them to be more confident in the rule of law.
Ayesha’s prior work is a testament to the impact she can have in her new role. During her ten-year tenure on the Lahore High Court in the Punjab region of Pakistan, she authored the precedent-setting decision outlawing the use of virginity tests in cases of rape. In her ruling, Ayesha states that the practice not only discriminates on the basis of gender but is “Used to cast suspicion on the victim,” – that is, that she is habituated to sex and so is unlikely to be a victim of sexual violence – “as opposed to focusing on the accused and the incident of sexual violence.”
Following Ayesha’s ruling, provincial governments in Pakistan ordered that virginity tests be stopped in all cases of rape and sexual assault against women and girls, chipping away at the negative stereotypes and rape myths that hinder women’s access to justice for crimes of sexual violence. The Supreme Court of Pakistan used similar reasoning in another case, thereby ensuring a binding legal precedent across the country. Ayesha’s groundbreaking legal reasoning has helped and will continue to help, survivors of sexual violence across Pakistan to obtain justice.