WORLDWIDE perceptions regarding women’s participation in law enforcement are changing, but in Pakistan policing is still a male-dominated career.
In Pakistan, the origin of women policing can be traced to the 1970s. In the Police Act 1861 and Police Rules 1934 there is no reference to women policing. However the Police Order 2002 recognises the need and importance of women policing.
During Benazir Bhutto’s first stint as prime minister, her government expressed keen interest in women’s participation in policing. As a result, women’s police stations were established in a few urban centres. Yet there was no real change in attitudes. Issues regarding recruitment, training, the work environment, promotions and women’s role in operations were not addressed in an organised manner.
There are 1,544 police stations in the four provinces while there are 12 women’s police stations in the country, including three in Punjab, six in Sindh, two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one in Islamabad. Most women’s police stations merely operate as holding or detention areas.
The 4,000 women police personnel in the country constitute less than one per cent of the total police strength.
According to a survey conducted by the UN, amongst Asian countries Singapore has 19.1, Malaysia 9.5, and Sri Lanka 5.3 per cent women’s representation in the police force.
To increase women’s participation in law-enforcement agencies the UN determined a goal of 20 per cent. Therefore instead of gender equality the priority should be gender mainstreaming.
Owing to social taboos women are reluctant to join the police. To attract women to the force it is imperative to carry out workplace environmental assessments. In the first phase, information should be collected on areas in which female officers have traditionally faced barriers, such as in recruitment and selection, sexual harassment, non-acceptance by peers and supervisors, pregnancy, childcare, etc.
In the recruitment process fair representation and effective say of female police officers is also required. Additionally, reluctance on the part of female officers to accept the challenge of field assignments is another issue confronted by supervisors.
Training centres primarily cater to the needs of male police officers. In 14 police colleges and schools, women police personnel try to adapt themselves to the harsh training environment. Due to an unattractive training environment, a fair proportion of women recruits either drop out or opt for non-policing assignments.
Non-availability of women trainers is another issue.
In Pakistan, cases of suicide, murder and ‘honour’ killings are primarily dealt with by male police investigators. The presence of male police officers provides excuses to the heirs of the victims to create hindrances in the investigation. Thus it almost becomes impossible for investigators to collect, preserve and exhibit circumstantial evidence in court.
In cases of ‘honour’ killings and other forms of violence against women, the role of female doctors, investigators and relatives is of vital importance. During the initial stage either due to hindrances in access or the poor professionalism of investigators, it becomes difficult for the courts to convict the accused. Such situations are being successfully exploited by the perpetrators; as a result the majority goes unpunished.
Investigation by women officers can enhance the comfort level of female victims, reduce human rights violations and enhance the image of the police.
From the successful experience of the developed world, one learns that integration of women in the police force is a phased process. In the initial phase the roles to be assigned to women police personnel are to be defined.
Induction of more women in the police force will not only improve police-community relations but also enhance human rights standards. Increased women participation in policing will also earn a ‘soft’ image for the police.
Constable Shazia Gul of the Nowshera police was the first policewoman of the country to lay down her life in the line of duty. Her sacrifice dispelled the myth that women are incapable of handling the hazards of policing.
Also, Pakistani woman peacekeeper DSP Shahzadi Gulfam received the prestigious International Female Police Peacekeeper Award. The achievements of such female police officers need to be highlighted.
In Pakistan during the last few years violence against women has indicated an upward trend. Pakistan ranked 134 out of a total 135 countries in the Gender Gap Index 2012.
The index was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006. It is a measure to assess the scope and magnitude of gender disparities.
According to a report compiled by the Aurat Foundation 8,539 women fell prey to violence in 2011. During this period, a 6.74 per cent increase in reported cases of violence against women in the country was recorded.
To prevent such violence the state has introduced the Criminal law (Amendment) Act 2004 and Provisions of Qisas and Diyat in the Pakistan Penal Code.
Further, to document violence against women, the National Police Bureau has established the Gender Crimes Cell (GCC). The GCC is primarily dependent on data provided by provincial police. Still, in rural areas, cases of violence targeting women are not reported therefore the GCC needs to depend on other reporting methods too.
From best international practices it is clear that recruitment, retention and integration of women in policing are achievable goals. Integration of women in policing is the best method to improve human rights indicators.
The writer is a deputy inspector-general of police.