Women had great esteem in ancient India. The status of our ladies and their valiant acts from the Vedic era to the present can fill volumes. Later social, political, and economic upheavals had the effect of depriving women of their status and relegating them to the margins. The scene was invaded by many evil rites and traditions, which bound the women to the walls of the home and made them slaves.
It is obvious that men have always held the majority of positions in the legal field since the beginning of time. History demonstrates that women’s admission into the legal profession in such a patriarchal Indian society wasn’t an easy feat. “Women constitute only about 30 percent of the lower judiciary, 11.5 percent of the High Courts, and 12 percent of the Supreme Court.” The door for Indian women to enter the legal profession was opened by Cornelia Sorabji. Even though there are many young women practicing and entering this wonderful profession in the modern period, patriarchal boundaries have prevented them from receiving equal and just representation. Women can play a substantial and equal role in the administration of justice and in changing the legal profession.
At a ceremony of recognition hosted by the women Advocates of the Supreme Court of India, the Hon’ble Chief Justice N.V. Ramana made the statement “…With anger, you have to shout, demand that you need 50 per cent reservation. It’s not a small issue. It’s (an) issue of thousands of years of suppression. You are entitled. It’s a matter of right.”
WHAT IS THE NEED FOR WOMEN IN THE JUDICIARY?
With the progress in time, women have started entering this profession by choice. However, the number of women in the judiciary, particularly at the upper levels of the system, is still too low. This paradigm needs to alter. Judges have a significant role in the administration of justice and the creation of verdicts because court decisions have a broad and profound impact on social structures, social order, and persistent systemic inequities. Judges’ justifications and conclusions are a reflection of their thought processes and a window into their perceptions as they interpret and apply the law. The impressions must, at the absolute least, be representative of both men and women on the bench in order to guarantee a fair and suitable response through judicial decisions. It’s crucial to remember that incorporating women in the judiciary entails more than just ensuring that their perspectives are relevant to situations involving women. Much more than that is involved. Giving women equal prominence and integrating the gender perspective are the goals.
The development of the gender-inclusive narrative depends on integration and visibility. The gender viewpoint is something that women in the judiciary contribute. an entirely different strategy, way of thinking, and emphasis. In an effort to protect the rule of law, all judges, whether male or female, render decisions in accordance with the law. In doing so, they can arrive at the same conclusion based on a certain collection of data, but for various reasons and with various accents on the pertinent information. This is due to the fact that people are affected by their individual circumstances, environments, and life experiences. The unique experiences and influences that female judges bring, which in turn affect their thinking and are reflected in their reasoning, make the gender viewpoint pertinent. Because it is more representative of the makeup of society, bringing multiple perspectives and arguments to the bench fosters better public trust and confidence. It incorporates a variety of social settings and experiences that must be taken into account, acknowledged, and most importantly, valued.
The use of gender-neutral language, which is a language that is especially aware of gendered words and roles and of the depiction of women, is another facet of expanding on the gender viewpoint for inclusivity and visibility. Not only in ordinary language but also in judgements because language can reinforce bias, word choice—or lack thereof—is crucial. For instance, the consistent usage of the pronoun “he” can support the notion that men should hold the dominating position. The majority of the time, implicit or unconscious gender bias is concealed in language and may unknowingly become entrenched in the system by relying on the same presumptions and assumptions, particularly those pertaining to women. Although language can reinforce these preconceptions, it can also have a powerful, timely, and systematic impact on bringing about positive, much-needed change. This is due to the fact that language has an effect on how people think and can spur change.
Therefore, using language that is gender-neutral is essential for inclusivity and raising sensitivity. It is also necessary because it has the potential to correct the imbalance and positively support a narrative of women that is more inclusive and respectful. The ability to communicate multiple points of view through language ultimately contributes to more balanced thinking and inclusive reasoning. When women are fairly represented on the bench, all of this is achievable.
REASONS FOR LOW REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN
Experts claim that because there are so few women in the legal profession, there are proportionately fewer women judges than there are men. “At the 26 September event of 2021, CJI Ramana shared data regarding women lawyers, pointing out that of 17 lakh advocates, only 15 per cent are women.” Women continue to seek greater participation in the upper judiciary even though there is no shortage when evaluation is based on competition. The patriarchal mindset and neutral balancing attitude need to be abandoned. Further contributing factors to gender imbalance in the judiciary are the dearth of women in the supreme court and collegium of HCs, the committees that choose and recommend candidates for judicial appointments, as well as the lack of sufficient voices in such a forum.
The fact that there is a gender pay gap in the judiciary is troubling, and it is made worse by the fact that only a few women lawyers have been elevated to the Bench. Direct promotion from the Bar to the Bench and promotion of trial court judges are the two sorts of appointments that happen in HCs. Of the 150 women picked to be part of the 25 HCs since 2006, only 61 were cases of direct elevation, while the rest were trial court judges who got promoted and of the current working strength of 66 women judges, 32 are lawyers who were recommended for direct appointment.
Some of the factors contributing to the low presence of women in the Indian judiciary, especially in higher courts, include:
- Patriarchy: The ingrained patriarchy of society is the main reason why women are underrepresented in the courts. Women frequently find the atmosphere in courtrooms to be unwelcoming. In addition to harassment, a lack of respect from the bar and the judges, and being taught what to say and what not to say.
- Blur Functioning of the Collegium System: More women often attend the lower courts at the entry-level because recruiting is done through an entrance exam. The collegium system, which is utilised for appointments in the higher judiciary, is historically more opaque and, as a result, more likely to disclose prejudice.
- No Provision for Reservation: While the High Courts and Supreme Court do not have a reservation policy for women, the subordinate courts in numerous states do. States such as Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha, and Rajasthan have benefited from the such reservation as they now have 40-50% women judicial officers.
- Lack of Infrastructure: Lack of judicial infrastructure is another barrier for women entering the sector. Small, crowded courtrooms, congested elevators, lack of restrooms, washrooms and childcare facilities are some of the challenges.
- Insufficient Female Advocates: It is significant to emphasise that there are still few female advocates, which limits the pool from which female judges can be selected. This is so because a large portion of judges in the high courts and Supreme Court were promoted from the bar to the bench.
The lack of diversity in gender representation affects many different societal organisations. Revolutions have historically changed these institutions in ways that once looked utopian. Even while we are moving toward a society that is more diverse and equitable, there still seems to be some significant polarization and sectionalization. Thus, this progress merely serves as a cover. Because of the judiciary’s centrality, radical but incremental improvements require a general attitude of optimism. The need for these adjustments has received enough attention; now what’s needed are grassroots reforms and their implementation. The court serves as the Constitution’s guardian, and the Constitution receives its authority from the people, hence judicial independence and its absolutist nature need some reflection. Additionally, effective justice is given when the people are properly represented. The direction of reforms in their rulings will also depend on changes to the makeup of the court at all levels. These changes would also ensure that the court is sensitive to gender issues; as a result, this institution will represent egalitarianism to the Indian people as an ideal.
Author(s) Name: Priyanshi Raj (Chanakya National Law University)
‘Reservation for Women in the Judiciary’ (Next IAS) <https://www.nextias.com/current-affairs/27-09-2021/reservation-for-women-in-the-judiciary> accessed 16 January, 2023
‘CJI bats for 50% women’s reservation in judiciary’ (Indian Express¸ 26 September 2021) <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/cji-50-womens-reservation-judiciary-7535963/> accessed 16 January2023
Bhadra Sinha & Tushar Kohli, ‘Alarming gender disparity in judiciary: 4 women judges out of 33 in SC, 66 out of 627 in HCs’ (The Print, 13 October 2021) <https://theprint.in/judiciary/alarming-gender-disparity-in-judiciary-4-women-judges-out-of-33-in-sc-66-out-of-627-in-hcs/749684/> accessed 17 January 2023