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Not giving women equal representation means exclusion of half the population from development. – Aliona Niculita

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By Hafsah Sarfraz
Tue, 09, 20

In an exclusive interview with You! UNDP Pakistan Resident Representative, Aliona Niculita, talks about rule of law in Pakistan and the need for more women in law enforcement and legal sectors...

The Joint Police Training Centre Nowshera (JPTC), which includes the first ever separate women training facilities for police officers

Aliona Niculita assumed her duty as UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Pakistan in August 2019 and has been responsible for both programme and operations. Since August 2020, she is the Resident Representative a.i. (ad interim) for UNDP, Pakistan. Ms Niculita has over 25 years of experience in development cooperation, and was previously the UNDP Resident and Deputy Resident Representative in the Kyrgyz Republic. Over the course of her career, she has held various positions in the field and Headquarters such as Deputy Country Director in the Republic of Tajikistan, Senior Assistant Resident Representative and Programme Analyst in Moldova, South Coordinator in Kyrgyzstan, Programme Specialist on detail assignment in the Regional Bureau for Europe and CIS at HQ in New York. Ms Niculita holds degrees in law from the Law Academy and History from the State University of Moldova.

You! Where will you place the importance of rule of law for countries and its citizens?

Aliona Niculita: Rule of law is fundamental to peace and security; crucial for economic and social progress and vital in protecting people’s rights and fundamental freedoms. In a society, governed by rule of law and justice, people including the most vulnerable, are protected and enjoy better access to education, health, social protection, jobs and economic benefits. Therefore, considering the strong interconnection between rule of law and development, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular Goal 16, is enabling the Member States to commit to the development of inclusive and accountable justice systems and rule of law reforms that will provide quality services to all. Our pledge to ensure that no one is left behind is a historical commitment to focus on the most vulnerable and marginalised. Pakistan has a strong commitment to the 2030 Agenda and is an example in establishing a solid SDGs framework.

You! What is its role in empowering the women of a country?

AN: There is a lot of evidence that gender equality and empowerment of women enhances economic growth and development. We have made progress over the last decades in advancing gender equality, including improved access to education or better representation in leadership positions. However, many challenges still persist, including discriminatory laws, women continuing to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership or experiencing physical or sexual violence. Therefore, rule of law is critical to women’s empowerment and gender equality.

You! Which areas is UNDP working in for a stronger rule of law and increasing access to justice in Pakistan?

AN: Rule of law is an inclusive term and follows an inclusive approach starting from just laws, an accountable and accessible justice system; therefore, one can’t pick one and leave the other. Following this proposition, we are working together with the Government of Pakistan, rule of law institutions and international development partners to make clearer laws, establish strong internal and external accountability systems and developing an efficient and functional legal aid system to enable people have easy access to justice. We also work closely together in strengthening the capacity of institutions and human resource, using modern technology, advance training programmes, and digital services to leave no space for corrupt practices and unnecessary and unjustified delays.

UNDP organised Women Development Organization trainings

You! What are some of Pakistan’s rule of law and justice challenges?

AN: Pakistan’s rule of law and justice challenges can be divided into two sets: 1) Demand side challenges and 2) Supply side challenges. UNDP believes that both deserve equal attention. The demand side challenges include people, particularly the rural population and women, being unaware of laws, their legal rights and available redressal mechanisms. There are cultural and social barriers for women who are financially and otherwise dependent on male family members. Supply side challenges include capacity challenges of human resource, lack of continuation and institutionalisation. Another serious and cross cutting issue are the gender-based inequalities and discrimination in education and work opportunities.

You! What is UNDP Pakistan doing to increase access to justice in the country?

AN: Under the Aman-o-Insaf Programme, UNDP works to strengthen both the demand and supply sides of the rule of law and justice system. It provides technical and institutional assistance to overcome the capacity issues of the individuals and institutions through designing and in placing a better training regime, one of Pakistan’s largest police training institutions, and training of the law enforcement personnel with special focus on women. The programme provides technical support to the institutions to develop less expensive, efficient and public service-oriented models. Similarly, the programme is empowering communities particularly women and other disadvantageous groups through awareness raising and provision of legal assistance. It is also supporting women to become part of the Rule of Law and justice institutions by supporting them in their education, training and mentoring.

You! Tell us how the largest training institute and creates an enabling environment for women to join the police force...

AN: If we want to encourage women to enter certain workspaces, it’s very important to create enabling environments for them. And that’s one of the biggest challenges too. UNDP Pakistan has supported Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s police in expansion of Pakistan’s largest police training centres: The Joint Police Training Centre Nowshera (JPTC), which includes the first ever separate women training facilities for police officers, thus creating an enabling environment for women to join the police force. Moreover, the project will enhance the existing capacity of JPTC from 600 men and women trainees to 1500 trainees per year. It will further deepen the ongoing efforts for securing peace in the country while also increasing opportunities for women to train and enter law enforcement.

We are also working to establish women hostels with child day-care centres to encourage them to enter this profession. In all infrastructure projects like the JPTC, Prosecution Academy Peshawar, Police Training College Quetta and Anti-Narcotics Force, the programme has ensured safety and security for women and space for day-care facilities for their children. The impact of these efforts will be seen in the near future but also years from now.

Women police domitory and day-care centre established by UNDP

You! How does the Aman-o-Insaf Programme contribute to UNDP vision to support implementation of the 2030 Agenda?

AN: Our Amn-o-Insaf Programme actively contributes to the SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 16 (Rule of Law). Gender equality is a cross cutting theme of UNDP’s programmes. Till now, this programme has supported more than 150 women law students and law graduates to complete their LLB degree and join the legal profession. A Women Lawyers Forum has been established. We are particularly grateful to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council and law schools in the province for all their generous support to make this possible. Specialised trainings in both theory and practice of the legal profession, establishing of women lawyers’ specific bar rooms, law books for the women lawyers’ personnel libraries are some efforts done through the programme. Meanwhile, in 68 model police stations in KP, women responsive desks have been established. The staff is trained on gender responsive policing to change the environment of the thana and encourage women to freely visit the police stations with their grievances.

You! What are some of the partners that Amn-o-Insaf Programme works with?

AN: The programme is unique in the sense that it covers almost the entire sector. Currently our close allies are high courts, bar councils, bar associations, police departments, prosecution departments, home departments, law schools, law and justice commission of Pakistan, anti-narcotics force and civil society organisations.

You! How important is women’s representation in law enforcement to empower women in the country?

AN: Women mark almost half of Pakistan’s population and not giving them equal representation means exclusion of that half from development. Their representation in law enforcement is extremely important to make justice seem approachable for many women who may be intimidated of reporting violations in a male-dominated environment.

You! Even though the Government has set a 10 per cent quota for women in the police forces, the percentage of women in police remains below 1.5 per cent. Why is that?

AN: Culture and societal norms are a major contributing factor. Women are not encouraged and at times permitted to enter this field by their families. It is also a non-traditional career that isn’t marketed well either. Many educational institutes actively market business and medical education but this field is not considered mainstream. Moreover, women who do enter this field face huge challenges as it’s a male-oriented field. Although, UNDP is directing its efforts to promote women’s representation in the police, but the dynamics and culture within police stations need to change further to attract more women to join the force.

You! How can this number be increased?

AN: We have been working with police departments and other law enforcement agencies to provide a conducive and enabling environment to women through gender responsive infrastructure. Establishment of 68 model police stations across different districts of the Merged Areas and KP and women hostels in major police schools is one such example.

We understand that a larger change comes when there is a change at the policy level.

Hence, UNDP is supporting better policies for the law enforcement agencies to encourage women to join the profession. This includes development of gender polices, advocacy and communication plans and strategies. Based on these efforts and their results, we’re now looking to focus on a systemic approach on gender mainstreaming, combining policy level work with piloting feasible innovative approaches.

You! What about the importance for women to have a higher representation in the legal profession?

AN: Women’s representation in the legal profession is crucial because the legal system faces multiple challenges when providing women their due rights. These challenges are more prevalent due to cultural sensitivities as well. There is a high demand for women lawyers in family law cases and human rights violations concerning women. Hundreds of cases are not even reported because courts are not considered appropriate places for women. Until and unless we have more women lawyers, women will not feel safe and comfortable seeking legal help. More women in the legal profession can help build that comfort.

You! Tell us about some specific training programmes for women lawyers.

AN: We piloted a specialised training for women lawyers in KP. The area chosen was taxation. UNDP with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), KP Bar Council, KP Revenue Authority and some law chambers have been training groups of women lawyers. They have now been attached with Revenue Authority and Tax Chambers to learn the practical aspects of tax law application. Surprisingly, most of the group members who were trained within less than a year have more than 40 cases on average. In addition, some of them have also gotten opportunities to teach law in law schools and received tax advisory ships as well.

You! The Merged Areas are some of the most challenging areas to work in. What is UNDP Pakistan doing to work on those?

AN: For the past year, UNDP has been arranging legal awareness sessions for people especially women in the Merged Areas. We held 170 legal awareness sessions last year, educating over 2000 women about their basic legal rights and basics of formal justice system. In addition, our programme with support of its partners, also hosts trainings for Women Development Organizations in Khyber District where their personnel are trained on legal literacy, basic rights and formal justice system in Merged Areas.

Recently, the programme has also provided logistical support to the courts in Merged Areas. Through this support, these courts have increased their seating capacity and have better amenities to encourage women to visit courts.

You! How can the society encourage women to take up positions of power in these fields?

AN: It is important to promote and support those women who are already holding important positions including in the justice sector. An example is our project ‘Faces of Empowerment’ that promotes successful women police officers, activists, lawyers etc. I hope people will join us to promote women role models.