'There is no no-go area in Balochistan; the state has established its writ and it will consolidate it further' - Sarfraz Ahmad Bugti
- 06 Jan - 12 Jan, 2018
While there are numerous Pakistani women who seek justice for years, and even a greater number who do not even dare to make so much as a complaint, there are only a handful of women on the opposite side of the bench from where the rulings are issued. Amna Zamir, the first female judge of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), not only makes the judicial system more approachable for women who seek justice but also shatters stereotypes associated with the role of women in the region by making her mark in a male-dominted field.
“There are social stigmas that prevent women from coming forward, or they are intimidated by the idea of facing a male-dominated judiciary. As a woman, these are the barriers that I have worked to break down. The presence of a female judge makes the system more approachable for them,” she claims.
Zamir was recently invited as a guest speaker at a conference hosted by the Association of Global Humanists and Ethics, where she spoke about “the legislative system in Pakistan in relation to gender based violence against women.” She believes, “stimulating the debate around these issues is part of the solution.”
She works to ensure that women along with other marginalised members of society have access to fair judicial processes both within the court system and through out of court arbitration. “While the judiciary is responsible to provide justice, I make sure I am serving the society as much as I can. Outside the court, I have been working with the Aga Khan Conciliation and Arbitration Board on a voluntary basis for more than 10 years now and I think it is our duty to serve the community. I make sure I help anyone who comes to me for legal advice. Be it on Facebook or otherwise, I always respond to people and do whatever I can to help them,” shares the Senior Civil Judge-cum-Judicial Magistrate.
Looking back at her judicial career‚ Zamir reveals she had to face resistance and criticism from the male-dominated legal and judiciary community. “No one likes to see a woman in a position of power. No one likes a woman to boss them. Male lawyers and even police officers refused to respect me in the beginning but it changed gradually,” says the soft-spoken yet assertive woman.
Zamir, who tirelessly worked to break the barriers without giving in to any external pressures, is an inspiration for young girls to dream big and work harder or to achieve their goals. “I stayed in the field even after all the backlash and difficulties that I had to face. I used to hear things like ‘Yeh larkiyon ka kaam nahi hai’ and ‘Girls can’t do this.’ This mentally has to change and this change doesn’t come overnight,” she opens up about the struggles she had to face in her early days.
Zamir’s endless determination has paved way for other women of her region to join the judiciary. “When I joined the system, there were hardly any female lawyers in the area and now there are four other female judges here,” she reflects on the changes she has witnessed in her hometown.
A remote area in Pakistan, G-B boasts a 100 per cent literacy rate. While girls' education is valued in the region, the cultural attitudes toward professional attainment for women are still restricted. “There are very limited professions for women in our area. It was my father who encouraged me to join this field because he wanted me to do something different. He was the one who went to universities to see which institute will be the best for me,” she credits her father, who is a retired SSP, for her success.
After completing her Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from International Islamic University, Islamabad in 2004, the ambitious and determined Zamir went on to achieve the top spot in the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) competitive examinations in 2006. She was then appointed as a civil judge in G-B Judiciary.
In 2009, she travelled to England to pursue her Masters of Laws (LL.M) in Human Rights Law. “I spent a year studying at the University of Leicester, as a Chevening Scholar and I use the practical skills I acquired on a daily basis as a judge. My reasoned approach to arguing cases comes from the way I was taught there,” she mentions.
Her stay in the UK not only equipped her with the knowledge and skills that she requires to face the challenges as a magistrate, but also prepared her to take life by the horns. “Studying abroad was the best thing that has happened to me. When I landed in England, it was a whole new world for me. I had never been more independent and confident. I met people from diverse cultures and I experienced life at its fullest,” she talks about the experience that altered her life for the best.
Known for her unbiased, prompt decisions, un-intimidated demeanour and strictness in upholding decorum in the court, Zamir quickly made her mark in the court by deciding hundreds of pending cases. Although the crime rate is low in G-B as compared to that of bigger cities, “residents indulge in minor criminal acts due to unemployment, however, the crime rates have gone down since my posting because people are afraid that if they are caught they know I won’t spare them,” she unfolds.
Moreover, the 35-year-old judge also expressed concern about the increasing number of divorce and khula cases in her hometown. “When young couples come to my court, I make sure I advice them to work on their marriage instead of just listening to the case and allowing them to part ways,” she says, adding that many couples have left her court happily.
While the decisions on crucial issues often take longer than one would imagine‚ Zamir stresses, “Judges are bound to follow set procedures and they can’t skip any steps.” However, she also emphasises on the importance of “revising legislation in order to ensure quick proceedings so justice can be provided as soon as possible.”
Zamir recently received the UK Alumni Award from the British High Commissioner in Islamabad, Tom Drew, for being a top performing British alumni. Included in the professional category, Zamir was among the three finalists presented the award. “I was ecstatic to receive the award. It feels great when your efforts are rewarded,” says the trailblazer.
When not slamming her gavel to bring order to the court and battling for justice, Zamir is an ordinary woman who likes to spend time with her family. Having been married for a year, she is all praises for her husband for being supportive and appreciative of her work. “He is very understanding and encouraging. Unlike other men, he never asks me questions like ‘where are you going?’ and ‘who are you meeting?’ she expresses her admiration for her better half.
Currently stationed at Gakuch, Ghizer Valley, that is away from her home and family, Zamir makes sure she stays in touch with her parents and in-laws on a regular basis. “I make sure I call them once every day. Whenever I get time, I talk to all of them. When I am stationed in the same region as them, I visit them over the weekend,” discloses the woman who cherishes her family the most.
When Zamir shares her plan to go to Canada for further studies, I ask her if she would like to settle abroad. “I have never thought about it. I will come back and serve my country,” she retorts with an unwavering resolution. The undaunted and compassionate judge is optimistic when it comes to development and adjusting mindsets of the people in the most scenic regions of Pakistan and we wish her all the best for her future endeavours.