Reforming police culture

September 20, 2020

The problem of lack of women’s representation and inadequate gender sensitivity training within the police force is pervasive and needs to be tackled seriously

In the recent gang-rape case, the survivor initially refused to have a first information report (FIR) lodged. It is reported that when the police arrived in response to calls for help, she begged to be shot dead, and said that she did not want to lodge a police complaint for mistrust of the justice system and fear of stigmatisation and trauma.

The problematic remarks of Umer Sheikh, the capital city police officer confirmed her apprehensions. The officer resorted to blaming the survivor for “travelling late at night”, “unchaperoned by a male relative” and “forgetting to check if the car tank had sufficient petrol”. CCPO Sheikh also said that a lone driver, who was a mother of three, should have used GT Road instead of the motorway for travelling to Gujranwala. His statement was criticised by politicians, legislators, members of the civil society, the legal fraternity and the media. Due to mounting pressure, he eventually attempted an apology for unprofessional and irresponsible behaviour albeit without admitting that he had engaged in victim-blaming.

“I had given a practical statement. I did not blame the woman for this incident. It is the police’s duty to protect citizens. We are here to protect people. The rapists will be dealt with with an iron hand in accordance with the law,” he has said, insisting that he “didn’t mean any harm”.

“If a misunderstanding resulted, then I apologise deeply to my sister and to all sections of society who were saddened or angered,” he says.

“The police and the society need to change their attitude towards women”, says Bushra Khaliq, the executive director of the NGO, Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE). She demands that the government introduce a comprehensive course on gender sensitisation at police academies and training centres.

“When police officials come to the field they must know how to respond to violence that women face”, she says.

“Women in our country face discrimination, and are vulnerable due to harmful practices which threaten their security. Gender-based violence is increasing with the passage of time. Reforming the attitude of the police towards women is the need of the hour”, she says.

Khaliq says that all branches of police, including investigation, operations, and crime control must undergo gender sensitisation training. She also says that more women must be recruited in police service. “Most cases of domestic violence go unreported because of cultural apathy, the attitude of families towards women, fear of retribution or intimidation and the [misogynistic] attitude of police. In order to reduce crimes against women, the government should make police stations more sensitive to women’s needs,” she says.

Khaliq notes that police stations are male-dominated and in dire need of better gender balance to enable representation, reform culture and improve access.

“The police need fresh courses on gender sensitization and more regular training,” says Muhammad Ali, the programme coordinator of Rabta Police Programme, a police training and capacity building initiative by an NGO called Rozan. He adds that there is an urgent need for a strong internal accountability system to ensure gender-sensitive response from senior police officers as well.

“Trainers with sub-par credentials are also a major issue. They concentrate merely on drills/exercise. They should focus on the attitude of personnel they are training. All the provincial governments should revisit and revamp the police training system with a special focus on pro-women laws and policies,” he says.

He adds that the government needs to run massive campaigns to recruit women into the police force.

Pakistan Forum for Democratic Policing (PFDP) has also called for curbing misogynistic attitudes by recruiting more women into the police force and appointing more women officers in senior positions to ensure crimes against women are handled in a gender-sensitive and effective manner.

“Women police officers must be given field jobs. They must be appointed as DPOs,” says Ammara Ather, a senior superintendent of police.

She says that the problem of lack of women’s representation in the police force is pervasive and needs to be tackled seriously.

“Seniors seem reluctant to appoint them to field jobs. Women must be accepted into the mainstream. In 1973, Bangladesh was encouraging and recruiting women at the ASP level; we started the recruitment of women ASPs in 2010. We need to change our mindset”, she says.

The author works for The News. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Reforming Pakistan's police culture