By: Mohammad Ali Babakhel
The recent round table conference on the state of women police in Pakistan, organised by the women’s parliamentary caucus, is an endeavour to improve women participation in law enforcement. In a joint communique, the parliamentary caucus expressed concern over the less than one per cent representation of women in police and reaffirmed the need to opt for inclusiveness.
Traditionally, policing is regarded as a male-dominated profession where women find fewer opportunities. Women were employed in the police for the first time in Chicago in 1891. In the subcontinent, circumstances paved way for induction of women in police in 1938-39 to suppress brothels and to handle labour strikes in Kanpur. In Pakistan, the origin of women policing can be traced back to the 1970s. However, for decades, women policing has remained ceremonial and stagnant.
The contemporary women policing model in Pakistan was introduced by the first woman premier of the Muslim world. However, this model was based on isolation and remained confined to major urban centres only. After three decades, the failure of this isolation-based women policing model was finally realised. To push women policing from isolation to integration, positive initiatives like the establishment of a gender crimes cell, a women police network, as well as the establishment of 105 women police desks in police stations in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, were taken taken. The posting of three women police officers as SHOs in Karachi last year and the joining of 20 women as assistant superintendents will also boost the morale of all female officers, which will have far-reaching implications for gender mainstreaming of the Pakistani police.
The recruitment, retention, training and promotion of women are issues that require instant attention of the police management. There are 14 police training institutions in the country; however, none of these are exclusively meant for women police officers. The establishment of such a facility will definitely attract more women towards policing.
Gender bias within the police is a potent barrier against the advancement of women police. Decision-making bodies of the police are male-dominated. Without change in the outlook of police management, women may not get their due space in law enforcement. Practically speaking, during raids, body searches and interrogations, women accompany male officers as a mere legal formality, which means that female talent is yet to be tested. A proportion of total slots in investigation, forensics, IT, telecommunication, training and administration departments needs to be assigned to women.
According to the national police bureau, in 2011, out of the total police strength of 453,901, 4,027 were women. This amounts to only one per cent representation of women in the police and highlights the biased attitude within the police and reluctance of society to encourage women to be part of law enforcement. It should be noted that in India, women constitute 5.33 per cent of the police force’s total strength. Similarly, according to a UN survey, Singapore has 19.1 per cent representation of women in police, Malaysia 9.5 and Sri Lanka 5.3. The Indian state of Gujarat intends to reserve 33 per cent representation for women in its police force.
The Security Council resolution 1325 reaffirms the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction, and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. The UN’s goal is to have 20 per cent female police officials in police organisations. In this regard, Pakistan intends to achieve five per cent enrollment of women in police in 2015, but a mere increase in numbers will not serve the purpose.
What is also needed is capacity-building so that women officials are more empowered.
Owing to cultural taboos, crimes against women are perceived as intra-family affairs. Consequently, countless such crimes go unreported. In 2012, the K-P police filed 147,788 FIRs, including 1,134 FIRs relating to crimes against women. This means that reporting of crimes against women constitutes only 0.76 per cent of total reported crimes. In addition, police stations hardly cater to the needs of females. Except for female lock-ups, there are no exclusive women reception areas, toilets or interrogation and interview rooms in police stations. While designing police stations, such structural requirements need to be incorporated.
The Police Management Board (PMB) is a high-powered advisory body empowered to advise the government on issues like recruitment, training and gender sensitisation within the police. The PMB needs to be effectively utilised for standardisation in recruitment, retention, training and promotion of policewomen. As per the government’s recruitment policy, in addition to open merit, women should have a 10 per cent quota of the total intake. It should be noted that despite a high rate of unemployment, policing is still an unattractive profession for females. In rural areas, parents are reluctant to encourage their daughters to join the police.
During the last seven years, seven women protection laws have been enacted but the real challenge is to ensure their implementation. Mere legislative initiative will deliver little. Structural reforms coupled with capacity-building will yield dividends in this regard. Increased women participation in police can improve the reporting of cases involving violence against women, as well as ensuring the protection of human rights and fostering a softer image of the police force. The issue at hand is not of scarcity of resources, but rather the primitive mindset that prevails within the police ranks. Therefore, the first step that is needed is to reform mindsets if we want to establish an integrated, humane women policing model.