In a conversation with The News on Sunday, ASP Amna Baig, discusses her recent successes, hopes for the Gender Protection Unit, and the need for public-police cooperation in raising awareness regarding violence and harassment.
he News on Sunday (TNS): You won the Integrity Icon award this year. Danish Ambassador Lis Rosenholm presented you with the award. Tell us about it.
Amna Baig (AB): It is a prestigious award. Accountability Lab arranges distribution of this award. The Lab had Ambassador Rosenholm present this award. The recipients are selected in a competitive process. The purpose of this award is to promote integrity among civil servants for the sake of good governance. Ambassador Rosenholm herself is a civil servant. She acknowledged my contribution in making public spaces safe for all genders.
TNS: Currently, the Danish, Canadian and EU ambassadors in Pakistan are women. They are also advocates of women’s rights in Pakistan. Did the Danish ambassador make a pledge while presenting you this award, as is the custom?
AB: They have an interest in the empowerment of women. There was talk about it. But now a change of command has taken place in Islamabad Police. A new mechanism will evolve as per the vision of new Islamabad Police Inspector General Ahsan Younas. He is the best officer to lead Islamabad Police with proper consideration for gender. I am hopeful that something meaningful will turn out. The presentation of the award has a symbolic value that may have a far-reaching impact on law enforcement.
TNS: You also oversee the Gender Protection Unit of Islamabad Police. The idea has attracted international attention. Are there any international linkages to make this facility more productive?
AB: Several ambassadors and international dignitaries have visited this facility. We note their suggestions and proposals. But this is an entirely indigenous system. There has been no donation of any kind for it from abroad. The good thing is that we have set it up using our own resources. This is why this project is sustainable. We neither need, nor have requested donations for this facility. A problem with foreign-funded projects is that once the funds dry up, they are not sustainable.
TNS: You recently delivered a lecture in the UN Women programme at the Gender Studies Department of Quaid-i-Azam University. How do you see this engagement?
AB: I think it is very encouraging. There had been no debate on gender violence in colleges and universities. Holding such debates in itself is a big achievement. For too long, talking about harassment was a taboo. But now people have started talking about it, and a discussion has been generated in the society. Gender violence is a pandemic as much as Covid-19. Though the debate on discrimination is growing, it still needs to be made louder and clearer.
TNS: What is the first step to stop gender violence?
AB: Reporting gender violence is the first step to stopping it. Violence often goes unreported. If a female partner is killed, she must have been suffering abuse for quite some time. Due to family and social pressures, such violations go unreported, and no one confronts the abuser. As a result, the abuse grows and the abuser gains enough confidence to kill the victim. It is only then that violence is reported to the police.
This is why I think discourse surrounding gender violence needs to evolve. The debate should be encouraged. People should know that the law is there to prevent abuse and violence. Our purpose is to create awareness so that lives can be saved.
TNS: There are few criminology departments in our universities. Don’t you think these are vital to systematically dealing with gender-related crimes?
Gender violence is a pandemic as much as Covid-19. Though the debate on discrimination is growing, it still needs to be made louder and clearer.
AB: I think criminology departments should be set up, but the number of gender studies departments should also increase. They cover gender issues more broadly. Gender studies departments at the QAU, the AIOU and the LUMS are working well. Gender studies programmes should be introduced in all universities. Those studying engineering or economics must also study gender. Criminology is a modern subject, but gender studies is the key to understanding the issues related to gender.
TNS: At the close of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, the US Embassy nominated you for the International Women of Courage Award. What does this nomination mean for women in Pakistan?
AB: It is important to understand that we are a country of over 100 million women. This is a huge number. Though their source is the same, the nature of problems women face in different countries differs. My nomination is a recognition of the rights of women, which is good.
TNS: According to recent reports, Police Service is among the most corrupt institutions in Pakistan. Have you faced any problems at work?
AB: When we wear the uniform, our profession comes before our gender. I have never faced bullying from my subordinates or my superiors. Women should be made aware that they are not discriminated against in Police Department. Many women outperform men, and they are treated accordingly. Before joining the police, I had a different perception of the institution. But in the five years of my service, this perception has changed. I know that the police make a lot of sacrifices to protect citizens.
We try to make access to justice easier for women and transgender people. It is hard for them to pursue their cases in the criminal justice system. I will say that the Gender Protection Unit means to help out women and transgender people. Women police officers process their cases from their first call till the last report. We have received 550 complaints of gender violence or harassment in just three months. I see this as a success.
TNS: In what way can this centre be made more effective?
AB: Public awareness is the key to our success. The more women know about it, the more they will come to us in their hour of need. Had this Gender Protection Unit not been put in place, I don’t think these 550 women would have lodged a complaint. At best, 50 or 60 of the harassment cases would still have been reported. The police are a public sector department. The public should cooperate with the police in raising awareness about gender violence. The Ministry of Human Rights and its subordinate institutions work to make women aware of their rights and to protect them.
TNS: You are very active on social media. Do you feel that it helps in reaching out to women in need of police aid?
AB: In Islamabad, social media works better than in other parts of the country. People feel relieved when they are told that their complaints have been noted and action taken.
The interviewer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University. He can be reached on Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ or Hassan.firstname.lastname@example.org