Men's clubs that decide for everybody? Only 2.04% of State Bar Council representatives across India are women

Out of a total of 441 representatives of 18 State Bar Councils across the country, only 9 are women.
Women representation in Bar councils
Women representation in Bar councils

While the abject lack of representation of women in the higher judiciary has been much talked about in recent times, there has been little or no data or discussion on how many women are elected to State Bar Councils.

State Bar Councils are statutory bodies established under Section 3 of the Advocates Act, 1961. They act as regulatory bodies to make rules for the legal profession and education within the state. They also act as representatives of advocates from the state, thereby acting in their interests.

Bar & Bench conducted a preliminary study across State Bar Councils from 21 states and union territories to find that only 2.04% of the elected representatives in State Bar Councils are women.

Ratio between women and men representatives of State Bar Councils

1. Andhra Pradesh: 1:25

2. Bihar: 2:23

3. Gujarat: 0:26

4. Delhi: 0:15

5. Himachal Pradesh: 1:14

6. Jharkhand: 1:24

7. Karnataka: 0:27

8. Kerala: 0:26

9. Madhya Pradesh: 1:26

10. Maharashtra & Goa: 0:27

11. Punjab & Haryana: 0:28

12. Rajasthan: 0:26

13. Tamil Nadu & Puducherry: 1:22

14. Telangana: 1:26

15. Uttarakhand: 0:21

16. Uttar Pradesh: 0:26

17. West Bengal: 0:26

18. Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim: 1:24

NOTE: The data collected and used for the purposes of this study was taken from publicly available information on the respective State Bar Councils’ websites. The states not included did not have required information available publicly.

Out of a total of 441 representatives of the above mentioned Bar Councils, only 9 are women.

No woman officer bearer in the Bar Council of India

The representation of women in the Bar Council of India is non-existent. Out of twenty members, there is not even a single elected member who is a woman.

Women representation
Women representationBar council of India, state bar council

After conducting this preliminary study, Bar & Bench reached out to various advocates, judges, and representatives of associations seeking their opinions on this disparity in representation. We also asked them whether there is a need for extra measures to bridge this gap.

The overwhelming response was that the legal profession continues to function as a male-dominated space and that women who aspire to positions of authority are not supported despite their dedication, commitment, honesty, and efficiency. Among the suggestions was the introduction of a policy that mandates minimum representation of women in Bar Councils.

Senior Advocate Jayna Kothari says,

"Bar Councils are just like the legal profession - they are male-dominated, women lawyers are hesitant to stand for elections. If the Bar Council has to be truly representative for all lawyers, then it has to have adequate number of women lawyers and there should be some measures taken including reservation of some seats, so that women members can be represented."

Senior Advocate Jayna Kothari
Senior Advocate Jayna Kothari

Senior Advocate Indira Jaising added,

"The reason why there are so few women on Bar Councils is obvious, because the elections need a lot of money and networking for soliciting votes. Women neither have that kind of money nor the desire to become part of male dominated networks, hence they keep out. When they do make it to positions of power, unfair sexist remarks are made against them. Any association with their male colleagues is viewed with suspicion. Why are we even surprised?

There is still a ruling ideology that a woman’s place is in the home and not at the workplace. When they do venture out, they confront rampant sexual harassment from their supervisors or seniors. The exercise is so counterproductive that they stay away from elected positions."

Indira Jaising
Indira Jaising Indira Jaising

Says Sakshi Banga, an Advocate at the Supreme Court of India,

"In an already male dominated profession, it is difficult for women not only to campaign freely but also to rise to positions of leadership. All the more reason that each one (including self) has to be a part of the solution and endeavour to not only encourage and support women lawyers to stand for elections, but also strive to make the environment conducive for it.

We also need more representation in various Bar Associations all over the country and in the profession as well. I had myself stood for elections in November 2019 to the Gender Sensitization Committee (GSICC) of the Supreme Court of India as the Supreme Court Bar Association woman representative and had stood elected, winning with a tie."

Giving a perspective from the Bench, former Allahabad High Court Chief Justice Govind Mathur said,

"I think the Bar at every level failed to provide a reasonable atmosphere for women to sustain in the profession. The courts too failed to understand that in our society extra efforts are to be made to extend a protective feel to lady lawyers. In absence of an equal and democratic atmosphere for women at the Bar by colleague male lawyers and reasonable protection by the courts, it would be difficult to make law as a dignified profession for women. Necessary efforts at all levels are to be made to have a good number of successful women lawyers and their adequate representation in policy making bodies of Advocates.

Law might be a male dominated profession, but in the last few years, women have been selected as judicial officers in big numbers. In fact, much larger in number than males. As a senior judge of the Rajasthan High Court and Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court, I also noticed their dedication, commitment, honesty, and efficiency in discharging their duties.

Our Parliament must also go for amendment to the Advocates Act, 1961 to have definite representation of women in Bar Council of India and State Bar providing reservation or by nomination. Bar associations should also ensure at least 30% representation of women in their executive. Government must also have a policy to appoint a good number of lady lawyers..."

Senior Advocate Rebecca John says,

"Even bar associations are so male dominated, and these are little male clubs which decide for everybody. There are so many women who have contributed so much to the growth of law, who don’t ever think of standing for bigger posts. It is clearly because of the nature and composition of the Bar Council, women are hesitant to contest, and there is no transparency in these elections. It is very sad and I don’t see the situation changing in the near future because of the manner in which elections are held."

Rebecca John
Rebecca JohnRebecca John

President of the Allahabad High Court Bar Association Amrendra Nath Singh said,

"The Bar lacks women leadership, although in the previous term there were two women. In the present term, only one was elected, but later she was killed. At the moment, the Bar Council does not have any woman representative...In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and North India, the courts are mainly dominated by males.”

This data prompts deeper introspection and examination of the system by all stakeholders involved. Evidently, one of the reasons for the lack of women representation in State Bar Councils stems from a dearth of women practicing at the Bar.

What former Supreme Court judge, Justice Sujata Manohar recently said about the lack of women representation on the Bench perhaps holds true for lawyers' bodies as well.

"If you have a small number of women at High Courts, you cannot get more number of women judges in the Supreme Court. Perhaps if there are women lawyers in the Supreme Court who are performing well, they can be appointed directly, as we did with Justice Indu Malhotra."

In fact, women lawyers practising in the Bombay High Court recently wrote to Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju seeking reservation of seats for woman advocates in the Bar Council of India and State Bar Councils via an amendment to the Advocates Act, 1961

The lawyers have submitted that to safeguard the rights, privileges and interest of the advocates, "it was necessary to have an in-depth understanding of the issues faced by all advocates including women advocates who face issues distinct from male colleagues."

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