In a city where there is only one female medico-legal officer for every 1.5 million women, the women of Karachi face an immensely dangerous situation. Like all big cities, Karachi is no stranger to crime – the city is, in fact, seen as extremely crime-ridden – including violence against women, rape and other kinds of gender- based crime. The five female medico-legal officers operating in the city are based at three government-run hospitals, while nine such posts exist; of these, three are vacant and one officer has been declared an absconder. Even nine MLOs are too few for a rapidly growing city. Such shortfall only discourages women who must wait long hours in emergency rooms, sometimes after facing acute trauma from reporting the crime. The result is that criminals get away scot free. Matters such as this are often ignored as governments draw up broad, impressive-sounding policies against crime and issue statements dominated by rhetoric and high intention. But if we were able to solve the more minor issues that exist, we could go a long way towards offering women greater protection. As it is, medical examinations are often a weak link in criminal cases involving gender violence. The techniques used are archaic and training – including gender sensitivity training – to the officers, according to reports, is often limited.
In this situation, the acute shortage of female officers medically trained to handle violence against women can only worsen the situation. The issue is one that can be addressed fairly quickly. There needs to be an effort also involving the hospitals to ensure that more female doctors are trained in medico-legal examination and then appointed at medical centres. Ideally, they should be present not only at government hospitals but also at private clinics so that more women are able to access them no matter where they live or how much support they have from their families. This seemingly small glitch in the system can have giant adverse affects. A solution needs to be found and it is up to the Sindh government, notably its health department but also its police force, to work towards this. The reason for the lower number of female doctors working at these posts needs to be examined so that the issue can be resolved without further delay.