The visit of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus led by Speaker Fehmida Mirza to the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) women’s police station drew attention to a long neglected and potentially central area to police reforms. The intention of the visit was to generate debate on the role of policewomen and to show parliamentarians’ commitment to the gender gap in policing being addressed.
In the short term, this visit helped in ensuring registration of crime in the women’s police station in Islamabad which had been halted since 2007. On a specific level, women parliamentarians’ meetings with officials of the police have called for higher budgetary commitments for women police stations; setting up of women’s desks in every police station and in every civil hospital in order to monitor and report women-related crimes; and immediate recruitment of women to make them more visible in the police force. A detailed report has been prepared by the Parliamentary Caucus as women parliamentarians’ contribution to the focus on female police as a comprehensive subject and integral part of police reforms.
It was Mohtarma Shaheed Benazir Bhutto who institutionalised female police, by setting up separate women’s police stations in Pakistan. This is a concept that now has widespread support in many countries. Several countries have set up women’s police stations with a view to addressing issues of gender and domestic violence, including India, Brazil and the Philippines. India has also sent a first all- women police unit of the peacekeeping force to Liberia in 2007.
The concept of dedicated space to and for female policing by setting up women’s police stations, women’s desks and family support units could make policewomen mediators between society and the law enforcement.
Despite Mohtarma Shaheed’s focused initiative, little thinking has gone into policymaking to enhance the role of women in the police and her dream of empowering women by raising their own force in the police has yet to be fully realised.
One of the most concerning aspect is a negligible presence of women in the police sector. In Sindh, out of a sanctioned police force of nearly 87,000, women’s sanctioned strength is 1,740 against which there are 558 policewomen working, a mere 0.62 percent of the total. In Balochistan, out of a total sanctioned strength of 46,873, there are around 76 sanctioned posts against which 56 are working. The case of Islamabad police shows that out of the about-10,000 police force only 157 are women. In Punjab the sanctioned strength of the police is 166,900 against which women account for only 840 posts with the working strength much lower than this figure. In the Frontier women’s sanctioned strength is 262. (These figures are obtained from multiple sources and there may be a slight margin of error in them.)
One of the reasons given for such poor numbers is that women do not show interest in police as a career. One District Police Officer who had served in Balochistan said that when he advertised in his district, he got 6,000 responses, out of which only one woman applied!
This state of affairs will only change once the state and police shows absolute commitment to recruiting women and offering incentives such as shorter-duration duties, a career path of promotions and better working conditions, giving women a good maternity cover and organising crèches in the police. One of the reasons for poor recruitment of women is a discriminatory system within the police department. The law enforcement area is conventionally considered a no-go area for women as those who dare have to face backlash at home and problems at work. Compounding societal practices, law too does not help. The police laws and rules have for the most part been gender-blind, and the much-touted Police Order 2002 of the last regime does not mention female police at all.
One of the aspects that needed to be taken up after Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s initiative was enactment of rules and procedures that created a legal framework for women policing. This was not done in subsequent governments.
The prospects of women policing in Pakistan are enormous, despite, and perhaps because of, the structural discrimination against women in our society. The social side of policing in Pakistan has always been neglected and the discussion of involvement of women in policing also calls for a greater need to create a community and service oriented police system.
Police is the most interactive face of the state and is the place where law is most physically seen to act. The very presence of women police will provide access of the law enforcement system to the discriminated, the weak and the marginalised. The problems of street children and child delinquency will also find different and innovative approaches. Indeed, crime control is just one part of policing duties. Crowd- and event-management, security cover, protocol are functions that women can perform as well as men, especially in cases where such functions concern the female population.
Women’s involvement in the community policing model can be extremely rewarding to the police service and to law enforcement. Hence, the police as an institution must take up the case of recruitment of more women for better image and for a public oriented force. For example, family vigilantism, domestic violence and family violence can be effectively checked by policewomen. Again, where most of the violence, both against men and women, is within the home, women can be invaluable investigators and detectives. The community-oriented approach to policing would help women assist recovering missing women and children, recording statements of distressed women and in interactions with crisis centres and other welfare institutions, such as child protection centres and women’s shelters.
The most significant way of promoting female policing is to encourage and diversify the involvement of women at all levels in the police departments. At a more technical level forensic expertise, police record maintenance and police research which male police may find tedious and not to their liking can be effective fields for women. The assumption that women will not be able to take up tough duty of policing is a false one. Studies in the US have found that women patrolling is effective in preventing violence. In fact neighbourhood patrolling can be a domain of women. Women have also contributed significantly to strengthening community policing concepts in the West.
With a PPP-led coalition government, there is greater emphasis on gender justice and therefore it is imperative that women law enforcers are construed as a solid category of state service, as it is a commitment of the manifesto of the party. It is an excellent opportunity to add depth to policing in Pakistan and to create new models of community and service-oriented policing in Pakistan. However, I hope also that civil society activates its advocacy networks and works closely with the police in creating an essential space for the women in police.