KATHMANDU: Women were not allowed to practice law before 1960.
It was Hari Prasad Pradhan, the first Chief Justice of Nepal, who allowed women lawyers.
In 1961, late Shanti Devi Chhetri became the first woman lawyer of Nepal. She was the only female advocate until 1964. Sharada Shrestha became the first district court judge in 1967 when she was appointed in Land Reform Special Court. She retired a few years back from the Supreme Court. Sushila Singh ‘Silu’ was the first Supreme Court judge. She too retired a few years ago. Until 1979, only 10 women got licence to be legal practitioners. After that the legal sector has seen a steady stream of women lawyers. Now, 7.6 per cent of the total registered advocates in Nepal are women.
But they feel discriminated against. “The female lawyers’ situation in legal profession is no different than in the society,” says advocate Meera Dhungana. She claims that the state did not treat women lawyers on par with their male counterparts. “An insignificant number of women advocates get appointed as judges or are given other state responsibilities,” she added.
Despite this, women have shown their skills when given a chance to perform at the policy making and decision taking levels. Sharada Bajracharya retired as first deputy attorney general and Indira Rana as the first secretary of the Judicial Council a few years ago. Apart from them, many female advocates have established their names in the legal field: Sapana Pradhan Malla, Dr Shanta Thapaliya, Sushila Karki and Pushpa Bhushal.
A recent survey, jointly conducted by the Nepal Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Association, found out that courts are where equality among men and women should be enforced, but the women have a poor representation there. “It is essential that the legal and judicial sectors set an example for the all other sectors to follow. It is essential to increase the number of women in the judicial sector,” adds the survey.
According to the survey, there are 12,222 registered advocates in Nepal but only 932 are women. Only five of the 225 judges in the three-tier judiciary are women, which shows the lack of women representation in the judicial sector.
A recent survey on the role of women lawyers in promoting gender equality
in Nepal reveals that the clients are reluctant to confide in women lawyers, as they feel that they would not devote as much time to the profession as their male counterparts.
The figures show that women do not have representation in judicial sector in many districts. Two districts — Khotang and Solukhumbu — in eastern region; five districts — Dhading, Nuwakot, Sindhupalchok, Ramechhap and Bara — in central region; eight districts — Myagdi, Parbat, Lamjung, Syangja, Argakhanchi, Gulmi and Kapilvastu — in western region; 10 districts — Dailekh, Jajarkot, Dolpa, Humla, Kalikot, Mugu, Pyuthan, Rolpa, Rukum and Salyan — in mid-western region and five districts — Dadeldhura, Darchula, Achham, Bajhang and Bajura — in the far-western region do not have a single women in judicial sector.
The reason for that there are no law schools in the remote districts. It means that even if women are interested to take up legal profession in the above mentioned districts, they do not have the opportunities to be lawyers.
The survey blames the patriarchal society governed by typical male mentality for this disparity. It stresses on the need of women participation at the decision-making level that can also help promote gender justice. It recommends that the Nepal Bar Association, the umbrella organisation of lawyers, to fight against the traditional mindset by advocating women representation in the judicial sector.
“Few women were interested in the legal profession in the past leading to their poor representation in the judicial sector,” Sabita Bhandari Baral, treasurer of the Nepal Bar Association, opined. “Even the parents do not want their daughters to become lawyers even in this modern age. Another factor is that a majority of lawyers do not earn enough, making the profession less attractive to the women,” she added.
A version of this article appears in print on November 17, 2009 of The Himalayan Times.