Female police officers constitute only around 1.5 per cent of the entire police force in Pakistan. In Pakistan, structural and cultural barriers make it difficult for women to participate in the workforce beyond their traditional and social roles as homemakers, mothers and primary caregivers. Some resilient women choose to become police officers; to experience working outside the confines of their traditional roles. However, the choice is often limited to either performing ‘desk work’ at a police office, carrying out body searches on women, or making way for police raids by knocking on people’s doors. Having female officers at the frontline remains the most effective way of providing humane support services to the victims and survivors of gender-based crimes.
The first ever women police station in Pakistan was inaugurated by Benazir Bhutto in 1994 in Rawalpindi. Since then many women police stations have opened up in the country. Azad Jammu and Kashmir opened its first Women’s Police Station at the end of last year. This week You! takes a look at the recently opened women’s police station in Azad Jammu Kashmir and the part it is playing in empowering women…
“For the first time since independence, a women police station has been set up in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). It is a good step,” says Zahida Jabeen, DSP, Muzaffarabad Headquarters. She is deputed at Police Headquarters, Muzaffarabad. AJK government has been on the mission to make the region safe and secure for its habitants, especially women. AJK is the only part of Pakistan where women make 52 per cent of its entire population. This proportion of women in population should not only be reflected in government jobs and decision-making positions, but also in service delivery including law and order.
Women are taking part in every field of life, so police should also benefit from their talent to curb crimes. AJK was the first region in Pakistan to set up a Women Development Department in 1992 and now it has a women’s police station, about two decades down the road. Though women have been serving in police department all along, a separate police station was needed for due processing of criminal cases involving women. “Being a woman and resident of AJK, I feel proud of the establishment of this first women police station in Rawlakot. It’s a step towards women empowerment and its location makes people think about priorities of government of AJK, striving to maintain law and order equally at urban centres and far-off areas. Establishing women police station shows that the government of AJK is committed to curb crimes against women,” states Quratul Ain Shabbir, District Information Officer Muzaffarabad.
The police station actually came into being because of Doctor Tajik Sohail Habib. He was the Regional Police Officer in Rawalpindi Division when the women’s police station was modernised. Having served across five continents, Doctor Habib has a unique way to deal with gender-related crimes. Upon assuming charge as Inspector General Police (IGP), he did in AJK what no one ever thought of. He set up the first ever Women’s Police Station in Rawlakot, district Poonch. “We are working towards specialisation. A number of women become victims of harassment or domestic violence but they don’t report to male-dominant police stations. In AJK, women are a significant part of the work force. We want to encourage an environment where the victims can easily access protection services. AJK is lucky to have a women DSP and female inspectors who are running the women police station,” elucidates Dr Tajik.
Due to the various aspects or ‘norms’ of police stations which have developed over the years, it is harder for women to feel comfortable in police stations, let alone voice out their issues. “Though crime rate is low here, but in some parts women biases grow in the shape of traditions. Thana culture, presence of men, hesitation in recording statements, gender-driven hiccups in investigation, and problems in collecting evidence were factors which discouraged women in reaching out to police for dispensation of justice. On the basis of these facts, it was decided that a women-only police station should be set up. All staff of this station consists of women.
All these steps aim to protect women and we welcome them,” explains Rabia Gilani, Director Women Development Department, AJK. The constitution of AJK presses on protection and welfare of women. In light of it, the government keeps on taking steps for gender equity. Cases of systematic discrimination against women in AJK are negligible and women are making productive contribution in different walks of life. “A considerable number of posts for women have been functional in our police department and women have been working on these posts all along. But they were working with male police. Due to the male majority at the police stations, female victims of harassment and violence were unable to report and pursue their cases,” explains Parveen Akhtar, MD, Small Industries Corporation.
Just as a woman needs a lady doctor at the hospital, she needs a female police officer to get justice. “It is as simple as this. A female police officer can investigate crimes against women in a better manner,” shares Kausar Yaqoob, a Police Inspector. Police job is round the clock. Women police also need the same facilities as women are provided in other professions. “We are also mothers, wives and daughters and we have to keep a balance in all our responsibilities. Duty hours need to be defined. Day-care centres should be set up in the police stations where women work. We need these facilities to perform better,” she suggests.
There is a need to make behaviour of government officers, specifically police officers, gender-friendly. Gap between police and women is a result of communication barriers, resulting from gender biases. “Timely disposal of complaints is important in winning women’s confidence in police service. Presence of women in police stations and formation of women’s police station are positive things for achieving gender equity,” states Quratul Ain.
This women police station is set up for women to freely raise voice against violence and harassment. “Domestic violence and harassment are our main targets. We will curb these crimes. We listen carefully to women and try to find solutions to their problems,” tells Nargis Sarwar, Additional SHO, Women police station, Rawlakot. Torture on women is the most common crime against women which is reported in police stations. “In most cases, domestic maids face it. Home items are stolen. Usually initial suspects are maids. At the start, attempts are made to resolve this matter peacefully. If it is not resolved, force is used and the matter is brought to police station. We deal with these cases as per law. Secondly, men stop giving their wives money to run the kitchen and bear other expenses. In most cases, these men are either jobless, addicts or gamblers. Torture takes place when the women demand their due expenses. Being women police officers, we take care of gender sensitivities resolving these cases,” informs Shaista Syed, Inspector.
Women tend not to raise their issues at institutional levels because they are not comfortable in talking to men sitting at power positions. But when there are women sitting in power position, they will feel comfortable reporting the crime they have suffered. “Being in the profession of administration, I have observed that AJK is a traditional society. Often, in fights between men, they drag women. Most of the times, women do not have a say. When they are physically or emotionally tortured, when they are disrespected and harassed, they are afraid of raising their voice. This police station is going to give them voice. We need more women not only in police but in all other institutions,” observes Beenish Jaral, Assistant Commissioner, Bagh.
The organisations working for women empowerment need to work more diligently for breaking the barriers society has put in the way of women. Community should also come forward to curb gender crimes. Male police staff is supportive but presence of women police in proceeding criminal cases involving women is very positive. “Women victims can easily show women police torture marks on their bodies. They cannot do it in presence of male police officials. This is just one example,” says Zahida. Crime against women should not be stigmatised and social media should refrain from creating gender taboos. “Involvement of women in crimes is going from 40 to 50 per cent in AJK which is alarming and a women’s police station is an answer to these crimes. We feel empowered in women’s police station compared to male police stations,” emphasises Nargis.
“In the past, voice of women was muffled in the name of honour inside the boundaries of their houses. Women used to stay silent thinking that it is their fate to be abused. This police station is a step towards unlocking their chains,” stresses Gulzar Fatima, former parliamentarian and Secretary General of Insaf Women Wing, AJK. Presence of women in offices is increasing gradually. To meet with challenges of modern age, this women’s police station will go a long way. “It is encouraging to see more and more women willing to join police as career. It will bring about a positive change in the future,” concludes Zahida.
Last but not least, after the establishment of first ever Women’s Police Station in Rawalakot, two more women police stations will be opened in divisional HQs of Poonch & Mirpur. Foundation stone of Forensics Lab have been laid at Arja, Bagh. Its construction will be completed in 6 months. Approval for three CSI vehicles for investigations has been granted. It will remove many hiccups in the way of investigating cases of violent crimes including rape.
As a considerable portion of population resides abroad, post for SP Overseas has been created to assist overseas Pakistanis. The AJK police are introducing e-challan system in traffic and distribution of 10,000 helmets in AJK is underway. Four police welfare projects have been launched at Pir Chinasi; Sirikot; Banjosa & Rati Gali.
The police station has also added a special centre to lodge complaints of transgender people. Social media monitoring and investigations capabilities will be introduced. A women protection app will be launched which can be downloaded and can be used to counter harassment.
Police will respond accordingly to the calls released through this women-friendly app.
‘Khidmat Markaz’ are going to be opened in Muzaffarabad and principal approval of such facilities has been issued for all other nine districts of AJK.
Video calling booths are being set up at busy markets and other vantage points of Muzaffarabad. Women can easily lodge their complaints directly at these booths.
“Madadgar” is a mechanism that is being set up at police stations of Muzaffarabad enabling citizens to contact IG Office directly on video calls.
Facebook page ‘AJK Police’ is the most active page in AJK from where complaints are directly received and responded and acted upon actively.
To reach out to public and create awareness about the facilities police have put in place, we have made our website (www.ajkpolice.gov.com) very interactive.
‘Commnuity Policing Offices’ have been set up in all police stations of AJK where minor cases of domestic violence and other petty crimes could be resolved.
The writer teaches Development Support Communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.
He tweets @HassanShehzadZ