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Call For Strike After Women Lawyers Attacked Outside Lahore Court

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Violence against women is a pressing issue in Pakistan, and it has been repeatedly claimed that the state has failed to enforce measures to ensure the security of women in the country. In 2018, the Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked Pakistan as the sixth most dangerous country for women in the world.

When it comes to domestic, physical and mental abuse, the country was ranked the fifth most dangerous country globally. It is generally perceived that violence only affects women who lack social, economic and political capital and are from the lower strata of society. However, the opposite is also true, and educated, professionally accomplished women, even those from the upper classes, also suffer from discrimination and violence.

This is evident from a recent incident in Lahore whereby female lawyers were attacked in court. The Women In Law Initiative Pakistan (WLIP) has released a statement regarding the matter.

The statement has detailed that on 26th September, 2019, at around 1:30 pm in the afternoon, four people, namely, Hafiz Ahmad Hassan, Hanifa Bibi, Nazia Imran and Yousaf Siddiqui reportedly attacked and targeted female lawyers outside the female bar room within the vicinity of the guardian courts.

According to the statement, the incident took place after an altercation in a custody matter wherein one of the victims, Advocate Uzma Gillani was representing her client (a mother) against the father of a girl child who repeatedly failed to bring the child to meet her mother in the court. Following this altercation, the alleged attackers as mentioned in the FIR number 1546/19 registered in police station, Islampura, district Lahore, physically attacked and abused Advocate Uzma Gillani and five other female lawyers, namely, Shahzia Ishaque (the complainant), Deeba Awan, Asma Bhullar, Nadia Ghauri, and Muqaddas Khatoon as mentioned in the aforementioned FIR.

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The WLIP also stated that on 27th September, the accused were to be presented before the magistrate for remand but instead, the female lawyers were placated and misled by the concerned officials till 4:00 pm in the afternoon at which time, the female lawyers, through their sources discovered that the accused had been granted bail since 10 am that day. It also came to their notice that the content of the FIR did not adequately cover the complaint which weakened their case against the accused.

It was alleged that the content of the FIR may have been diluted or changed to enable the accused to get relief. In fact, it transpired, that the police had let go of the accused on the day of the incident itself and had never moved to place them under arrest.

The WLIP has further stated that the female lawyers stand aggrieved by this inaction on part of law enforcement officers but understand that this could not be forthcoming without the support and backing of the cabinet members. They further alleged that when confronted, the cabinet members misbehaved with the female lawyers.

This attitude and behaviour has led the female lawyers in Lahore to call for immediate measures to counter not just acts of such violence and abuse, but also the rampant misogyny and patriarchy that runs within the corridors of the legal profession.

The WLIP further said that this was not possible until a call for a more inclusive legal profession is made and women have a seat at the table in more representative capacities.

In light of these incidents, the female lawyers in Lahore have called for a ‘lockdown’ at the sessions court on 28th September 2019 and are demanding equal representation in the bar leadership and a balanced cabinet, respect for female lawyers as equal professionals, and enforcement of the rule of law.

The released statement further states that the female lawyers refuse to be used any further as pawns for the political ends of their male counterparts and will strive for inclusion and justice until it is served. Female lawyers are already working in a non-conducive environment and face many challenges at work, including harassment, exploitation and discouragement and incidents like these further create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

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Above all, the statement noted, such incidents violate fundamental rights and rule of law which only adds to the woes women face in this profession. It added that women in law not only condemn this abhorrent act of abuse as nothing justifies violence and that too within the court premises, they also call upon the authorities, bar officials and legal community to support the victims and assist in holding the perpetrators accountable in accordance with law.

The statement, in its concluding remarks expressed solidarity with the victims of this incident and has called for justice and a safe working environment for female litigants and lawyers in the courts, in the firms and in all other spaces to access justice.

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