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What stops women rising in the judiciary?

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The Supreme Court of India has had only eight women judges and, in the high courts, only 10% of all judges are women. The lack of female representation in India’s higher courts is well-documented but new research suggests that the situation is also a problem in the lower courts.

Sumathi Chandrashekaran and others in an Economic and Political Weekly paper analyse the recruitment of civil judges and district judges between 2007-2017 in different Indian states. The authors’ chose these levels as they are the entry points into the lower judiciary.

In 15 states, for which data was available, the authors find that 36.5% of the civil judges recruited over the 10 years were women in 15 states. Recruitment of civil judges is based on an exam which allows fresh law graduates to apply. Encouragingly, the recruitment of women has increased over time in most states. In 2007, only 27.6% of women were recruited but this increased to 49.2% by 2017.

However, women’s representation in the district judge cadre is not as promising. Among district judges, who were recruited from state Bar Councils via exams, only 12% were women in the 13 states analyzed. The representation was especially low in Jharkhand (1 woman out of 30 district judge appointments), Uttar Pradesh (9/139) and Gujarat (4/57).

According to the authors, a major barrier to women’s recruitment as district judges are the eligibility criteria to take the entrance exams. Lawyers need to have seven years of continuous legal practice and be in the age bracket of 35-45. This is a disadvantage for women as many are married by this age. Further, the long and inflexible work hours in law, combined with familial responsibilities, force many women to drop out of practice and they fail to meet the requirement of continuous practice.

Also read: Breaking through the Old Boys’ Club The Rise of Women in the Lower Judiciarytps

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