It was a late night in September 2018 when police constable Ayehsa* was returning home after performing her duty in the federal capital. Getting dropped at the same point she did every day via public transport, she decided to walk to her house since her father had not come to pick her up, as was their daily routine. Even though it was dark and she felt uneasy walking alone, she thought it better than staying at the deserted, dingy bus stop. Walking along a deserted path surrounded by Islamabad’s iconic greenbelts, she was suddenly grabbed by an unidentified man who dragged her to the nearby bushes and raped her, leaving her unconscious.
This atrocity occurred despite the fact that Ayesha was in police uniform and carrying her official weapon in her bag. The then interior minister Shehryar Afridi visited her in hospital and vowed to provide justice.
Besides justice, which in this case eluded the ‘long arm of the law’, what policewomen like Ayesha require most are basic job protection measures such as secure pick and drop services, especially during late-night duties.
Issues such as these deter many women from joining the police force, which already suffers from a severe shortage of women officials as per the minimum international standards set by the UN.
Women form 2.99% of the police force in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), 2.3% in Punjab, 1.2% in Sindh, and percentage each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan.
Another dismal fact is the low number of dedicated women police stations in the country. These stations are required to deal with female victims of sexual abuse, violence, and other crimes, as well as to arrest and investigate women criminals. Punjab, Sindh, KP and ICT have six, eight, two and one women police stations respectively whereas Balochistan does not even have a single such structure.
These figures have recently been made available in the Comparative Study of Pakistan Police by the Pakistan Forum for Democratic Policing (PFDP), which comprises several organisations and individuals. The study has been conducted by a team led by Deputy Inspector General Ahmad Kamal and covers the period up till 2019.
Muhammad Ali, programme coordinator of Rabta Police Training and Reforms Programme at Rozan — one of the founding member organisations and secretariat of PFDP — said they discovered lots of issues faced by policewomen while conducting the study. Sharing the findings, Ali revealed little to no acceptance of policewomen by their male colleagues. Moreover, there are no daycare facilities in police stations nor are there separate toilets for women. Another institutional problem is the lack of women at senior posts and their exclusion from operational matters — the most policewomen can do in the field is performing tasks of house searches and separating women in raided areas.
Besides, women are rarely appointed Station House Officers (SHO), have few facilities at police training institutes and have to commute to police stations and their homes even during the wee hours of the day on their own, added Ali.
Senior Superintendent of Police Ammara Athar, who was the first woman District Police Officer in Punjab, acknowledged the issues about acceptance for policewomen as responsible staffers among their male colleagues. However, she added, things are improving and the induction of women in Police Service of Pakistan through Central Superior Services examinations since 2010 is a promising example.
Bangladesh started inducting women on these ranks as early as in 1973, soon after separating from Pakistan, yet we took so much time to take this decision, she regretted.
Athar stressed that women officers in decision-making roles are in a better position to understand the issues of policewomen and can better deal with cases involving women victims. Besides, she said further, policewomen are required in high numbers as there are increasing cases of women being involved in crimes like thefts, kidnappings, and prostitution.
Tooba Munir, SHO of the Women Police Station, Race Course, Lahore, said policewomen are trained alongside their male colleagues and do not consider their gender as an obstacle. However, she added, the perception about the force at the society and family level is such that women are not encouraged to join the police. She agreed that having a dedicated pick and drop facility, along with other provisions such as separate toilets, would alleviate the harsh conditions women police officials face on a daily basis and reinforce their vigour towards their law enforcing duties.
*Name changed to protect identity