Pakistan: Majida Rizvi

The first woman to have been appointed a high court judge in Pakistan, Majida Rizvi is a tireless campaigner for gender equality, upholding neglected constitutional prowomen provisions.

— Majida Rizvi

Majida Rizvi (born 1937) has the unique honor of having been the first woman to serve as a judge in a high court in Pakistan. A tireless campaigner for women's legal rights for the past three-and-a-half decades, Majida is a role model for young women lawyers. In her current position as chairperson of the National Commission for the Status of Women in Pakistan, she has worked hard to educate politicians, other opinion-makers, and the public about the urgent need to reform a slew of laws that discriminate against women.

When Majida Rizvi's family finally relented, the law and political science graduate from Karachi became a lawyer in the 1960s, a time when women lawyers were rare. Majida remembered the day a client was openly skeptical. "What will this girl do?" he asked one of her seniors. When the client's case was brought to court, the senior lawyer was busy, so Majida handled it–and won. The client apologized. Such experiences helped make Majida a campaigner for gender equality. Appointed a judge of the Sindh High Court in 1994, she delivered landmark judgments that upheld the rights of women against discriminatory state practices, which were in contravention of the Constitution. As chairperson since March 2002 of the National Commission for the Status of Women in Pakistan, a government organization, Majida has traveled throughout the country collecting data on laws that discriminate against women. She has also held seminars and workshops to dialogue with different groups on the subject. Majida's contention is that Islam confers rights on women that are denied to them by laws currently in force in Pakistan. Her greatest achievement has been to help bring the debate on these issues to the forefront of national life. Parliament has placed them on its agenda, and the president and prime minister have been obliged to ask for further study and research. Majida has sometimes clashed with the religious establishment, which has stood against the repeal of laws like the Hudood Ordinance introduced in the name of Islam by the 1980s martial law regime. Religious groups opposed to Majida's arguments have been doing their own "negative research" on this subject. Even though her security has sometimes been under threat, it has left her unfazed.

National Commission for the Status of Women in Pakistan