Inappropriate choice of words

KARACHI: On January 13th, 2018, the honourable Chief Justice Saqib Nisar spoke at a judicial conference in Karachi in which he compared the quality of a speech to the length of a woman’s skirt: “It should not be too long that one loses interest and neither too short that it doesn’t cover the subject.” This is a quote attributed to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill: “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”

The subject in question, of course, would be a woman’s legs. It is disappointing to hear the highest judicial authority in our country using women’s bodies to illustrate a point about public speaking in this manner. It is especially a setback for women lawyers who practise in a male-dominated profession, as it is such statements that cause the alienation and marginalisation of women in the legal field. Given the global conversation today about the impact of discrimination on women’s lives, ranging from casual sexism in the workplace to sexual assault, the statement is particularly tone-deaf, tasteless and unbecoming of the chief justice of any country.

As lawyers, we understand the need to exercise discernment in our choice of language and in whose words we allow to shape ours. The legal community emulates the honourable chief justice’s example and his use of a demeaning quote about women further reinforces attitudes that harm women within the legal community, in a country where women face many everyday struggles. Furthermore, Winston Churchill died in 1965 and held values we now consider abhorrent: Like many of his peers, he saw the white race as superior, opposed the Indian independence movement and did not believe women should have the right to vote. Surely, we need not look to our former colonial masters for advice on public speaking that reflects antiquated values that educated people in their own country would reject today.

We, the Women Lawyers Association, hope that those in positions of power in Pakistan will choose their words with greater care in the future. Let us not forget that Jinnah envisioned a nation in which women and men would work side by side as equal citizens.

Women Lawyers Association

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2018.

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