Only 28% of lower judiciary judges in the country are women, a first-of-its-kind study by Delhi-based Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has revealed.
The report found that in only three of the smallest States — Goa, Meghalaya, and Sikkim — with a collective total of a just 103 judges does the percentage of women judges cross 60%.
Barring Telangana and Puducherry, the percentage of women judges remains below 40% for all other States, regardless of geography, cultural considerations or other differences, the report said.
The report said numerous factors impact the gender composition of the lower judiciary, from the number of women participating in the different steps required to become a judge, to the incentives and work environment provided to women by the judiciary.
It found that there is a moderate correlation between sex ratio and the representation of women in the lower judiciary.
“Where sex ratio increases, there is a moderate increase in the female representation of judges in the lower judiciary. This correlation, however, is only moderate and there are exceptions,” the report said.
Quotas for women
Other factors include the disproportionately low number of women lawyers and the challenges they face on entering litigation, the report said. Only 10% of advocates are estimated to be women, and when it comes to senior advocates in the Supreme Court, the percentage drops to 2.9%.
Though there is no reservation for women in the higher judiciary, a number of States have provided quotas for women in the lower judiciary.
States like Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Uttarakhand provide for reservation which ranges between 30-35% of the total seats, for which recruitment is done through direct appointment.
However, the report said the proportion of women judges in States with reservation varies widely. While Telangana had over 40% representation of women judges, States like Bihar and Jharkhand fall short of the national average.
The lack of gender diversity is not limited to the lower judiciary. The Supreme Court has only seen six women judges in its six decades of existence, and currently has one woman judge out of 25 judges.
In the 24 High Courts across the country, just over 10% judges are women, with not even a single woman judge in eight High Court.