Pakistan: Hina Jilani

Lawyer Hina Jilani, who began practicing law during the martial law regime in 1979, has set standards for human rights protection, and for her own profession.

— Hina Jilani

Hina Jilani (born 1953) has set standards for protecting human rights in Pakistan, especially the rights of women. For over two-and-a-half decades, this dedicated lawyer has fought discriminatory laws that have turned women into second-class citizens in their own country. She has also set standards for her own profession by providing free legal aid to hundreds of clients, and by setting up a shelter for women fleeing violence and abuse.

Hina Jilani started practicing law in 1979, when Pakistan was under martial law, with no sign of democracy on the horizon. The regime used obscurantist interpretations of Islamic law to deny women the equal rights they enjoyed under the constitution. It was the worst of times, but also in a sense, the best: fighting unjust laws became Hina’s mission. She took up case after case concerning the violation of women's right to security, and the deprivation of liberty under unjust and discriminatory laws. In many cases, she obtained favorable judgments from the courts: for instance, on a woman's right to marry a man of her own choice, and without the consent of a guardian. These are cited as precedents in courtrooms across the country by lawyers fighting to redress wrongs against women. Hina's work for women victims of violence led to the setting up of the first women's shelter in the private sector. Indeed, it was the first in the country to be governed by the principle of recognizing its residents as adults who had a right to choose how they wished to live. Hina and her sister, Asma Jahangir, also a human rights lawyer, set up the AGHS Legal Aid Cell in 1986, the first free legal aid center in Pakistan. Hina's work has benefited other oppressed people. Her work for bonded labor led to an act abolishing it in 1992. Her fight for the rights of children, especially the protection of child laborers engaged in hazardous work, prompted the government to come up with an act regulating the employment of children. In the course of her work, Hina has been threatened time and again. Once, a client was shot dead in front of her eyes; another time, gunmen entered her house and threatened members of her family while she was away. The threats put pressure on her to migrate, but she refused, and continues to live and work in Lahore.

AGHS Legal Aid Cell