That women complaint units are reportedly being established in two police stations in Islamabad is an encouraging step towards gender-sensitive policing. The initiative is meant to curb the obstruction of justice and the custodial abuse of women.
However, it remains to be seen whether these units can actually help bring about qualitative change in police attitudes towards women. If this intervention is to make any difference, complaint units will have to be established in all the federal capital’s 14 police stations. To lessen women’s reluctance to approach male-dominated police stations, facilitate victims of gender violence and ensure that women are not abused in custody, broader reforms that address the inherent gender bias of the police force are also needed.
So far, measures to educate the police force about the rights of women have seen only limited success in the establishment of a small number of women police stations.
It is commonly reported that these stations lack basic facilities and trained staff, as well as the authority to register FIRs and carry out investigations. This has prompted accusations that government interventions for gender-sensitive policing lack seriousness of purpose. Lending support to the argument that reforms have only addressed the issue at a superficial level is the inadequate representation of women in our police force. For instance, there are only 165 women – including two DSPs and 137 constables – in the capital’s existing 9,600 police corps.
Not surprisingly, there are hardly any women in meaningful command and operational positions. It has also been pointed out that changing the current mind-set of our police force requires more than gender-sensitive training on how to handle cases of domestic violence, harassment at workplaces and sexual assault. Any strategy aimed at changing police attitudes towards women will have to encourage a greater number of women to enter the force.