By Riaz Ahmad
PESHAWAR: In Pakistan, policing is largely a man’s job. And in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, social conventions and stereotypes have restricted the number of policewomen to just 586 in a 40,000-strong force. There are 99 seats for policewomen in Mansehra district, but only 14 constables have joined the force thus far. In Torghar, there is just one policewoman.
It is mandatory for policemen in the province to be accompanied by policewomen during raids as they cannot enter a house without constables. The number of policewomen, however, is so low that raids are often conducted without them.
“The presence of two civilians who would act as witnesses and policewomen is a legal requirement for a raid if it is planned well ahead. But in case of an emergency, if we are pressed on time and calling for policewomen is not feasible, we are allowed to conduct a raid without the policewomen as per the ruling of the high court,” a policeman requesting anonymity tells The Express Tribune. And in a province wracked by militancy, the search and strike operations are too frequent and policewomen too few. “Due to the non-availability of policewomen, you cannot include them in raiding parties in some districts, planned or otherwise,” he adds.
Even initial plans to establish women-only complaint desks at each police station of the province could not materialise due to the insufficient number of policewomen. As a result, the complaint cells are functional at only select police stations.
“I joined the police force due to extreme poverty in order to support my family of 10. My elderly father is a peon in a government department. I cannot get another job with my matric qualification, otherwise this isn’t an attractive option,” says a constable. “Nearly all those women who joined the police as constables have done so because of financial difficulties.
They are not here by choice; they have no other option. I would like to get a teaching job, but I’m overage now,” she adds, claiming women who joined the force by choice are those recruited as ASIs after clearing the Public Service Commission exam.
Another policewoman said promotions were hard to come by, serving as another deterrent for women joining the force. “There were policewomen who topped their courses and performed better than their male counterparts. But even they were denied regular promotions because of the mentality of some high-ranking police officials,” she complained.
The policewoman, however, acknowledges the change brought about by IGP Nasir Khan Durrani. “There were only a few women inspectors and just one DSP earlier, but the IGP introduced a fast track promotion policy to encourage other women to join the force. As a result, there are now 19 women officers, from ASI to DSP, in K-P,” she added.
At present, there are seven women DSPs, two inspectors, two sub-inspectors and seven ASIs along with the first woman ASP of the province, Sonia Shamraz. Three women are serving as DSP Traffic in Peshawar, one has been posted as DSP in-charge at Police Training Centre, Hangu, while the other three DSPs are working as DSP Frontier Reserve Police in Abbottabad, DSP Training at Central Police Office, and DSP Investigation in Peshawar, respectively.
Previously, women were often not posted anywhere and served as officers on special duty. When a women’s police station was established in Peshawar back in the 90s, it was only a symbolic gesture because the police station was established inside the Police Lines, not accessible to the public. Moreover, it was not given the authority to register FIRs, and to this day serves as just a detention centre for women. The only functional women’s police station at the moment is the Abbottabad police station.
However, in another sign of changing times, a batch of 35 police commandos were trained in 2015 at the Police Training School, Nowshera for the first time in the province’s history. Heralded as a much-needed development, it is also expected to convince more women to consider joining the police as a viable career option.
When ASP Sonia Shamraz visited the Central Police Office (CPO) to get her employment letter accompanied by her husband, all the clerks placed the papers in front of her husband to sign. “When my husband told them his wife was the ASP, they were awestruck. It is unusual for them to have a lady ASP,” narrates Shamraz, who was recently posted as ASP Saddar Circle/Traffic in Mansehra – the first woman to become an ASP in the province.
“I have to regulate traffic and control crimes as well as I have been given charge of one police station, which will increase to three in the future,” says Shamraz, adding she still enjoys her career. “I conduct regular search and strike operations and interrogate criminals.”
Shamraz has a three-year-old daughter and juggling between her professional and family commitments is quite a challenge. “When I wake up early morning I find my daughter asleep and when I return late at night she is fast asleep again. This is my one regret in life,” she says.
Of the crimes Shamraz deals with, she says abduction of girls is a frequent occurrence in the district. “FIRs are registered by families for abduction of girls, but when we recover the girls they often tell us they eloped. Parents and families then go for rape charges,” she explains, adding many women are also deprived of their share of property in land disputes.
The ASP attributes her success to her supportive family. “I have a cook and domestic staff for household work so my in-laws think I’m really lucky and that they should also have completed their education to avoid domestic work like me,” she says, adding her husband, a customs official, has always been very cooperative.
“There are some people who are old-fashioned and don’t like women in the police, but their number is limited. Most of my male colleagues are really cooperative.”