KARACHI, Oct 11: Despite a gender sensitisation policy notified by the Sindh police early this year, under which women are to be encouraged to join the police force and policewomen are to be posted to field assignments, women are currently being offered limited opportunities and are, in fact, often given the derogatory label of being ‘soft-job seekers’, Dawn has learnt.
Investigations reveal that their perceived inefficiency is directly linked to their insignificant role in investigations, slow promotions and the lack of support provided by the police department.
There are currently no female investigation officers in any high-profile case. Yet the factors that have impeded their progress over the years include gender discrimination, the thana culture, the perceived inefficiency of female police officers and, above all, the government’s failure to create an environment conducive for equal opportunity.
This is evidenced in the fact that despite a severe shortage of staff, there has been no major induction of female recruits in recent years.
Against the 1,051 posts currently sanctioned for women, there are only 214 policewomen in Karachi – seven DSPs, 20 inspectors, 23 sub-inspectors, 40 ASIs, 10 head constables and 114 constables. By contrast, policemen number at about 29,000 in the city. While men not only outnumber women in recruitment, they also occupy nearly all the operational and administrative posts, both major and minor. It is no wonder, then, that the policewomen complain that they have no voice.
The female staff of the police department are mainly assigned tasks related to security or when raids are conducted. While policemen say that the women are themselves responsible for their glaring lack of involvement in investigations, policewomen lay the blame on their superiors and maintain that they are not assigned any investigation work.
Passed over for promotions, facilities
“Their attitude is always discouraging,” complained an ASI. “For women who are as qualified as their male colleagues, it is extremely frustrating to be restricted to menial tasks. Take the example of the women’s police station where, until some years ago, policewomen used to investigate cases. Why has it now been reduced to merely a lockup for women accused in some crime?”
The ASI conceded, however, that many low-ranking policewomen do not go to the police stations at all and remain on call for when their services are required.
This lackadaisical approach is explained to some extent by the fact that most of the policewomen contacted by Dawn complained that the attitude shown by policemen tends to be offensive. They also strongly criticised the fact that women are not provided the same facilities as their male colleagues, particularly in terms of transport.
“The lack of transport facilities are a major hindrance in terms of our efficiency,” complained one officer, pointing out that official motorbikes are routinely allotted to men.
“We have to travel on the buses even for official work,” said another disgruntled policewoman. “If the navy or the army can facilitate their female staff members, why can’t the police?”
A number of policewomen also raised the issue of promotions, saying that they were discriminated against and the separate women’s police cadre had become a hurdle rather than a privilege.
No woman has ever been appointed to the ASP rank in Sindh, though there is one direct appointee in the Punjab who entered through the public service commission exam. The seven female DSPs currently working in Karachi were promoted to the rank in 1998 through a court order – they joined the police force in 1978 as inspectors and remained at this rank until they filed a case pleading that they should be promoted in the same manner as their male colleagues.
“There were 14 of us, most of whom had masters’ degrees or were law graduates,” said a cop who was amongst the women promoted in 1998. “Seven of us were promoted and the rest are still inspectors. Although we did get our promotions, they considered our services from the 1990s instead of 1978. The case got a lot of publicity in the media.”
However, the DSP believes that women are not sidelined in investigations but in fact, the policewomen are themselves reluctant to perform such demanding tasks.
‘Extraordinary steps are required’
Against the background of these long-standing problems, the Sindh Police notified a gender sensitisation policy early this year as part of the government’s policy action while seeking funding worth $350 million for reforms of the justice sector under the Access to Justice Programme. Two of the important implementation elements are to encourage women to join the police force and to post female police officers to field assignments.
In the pursuance of this policy, IG Ziaul Hasan issued a couple of months ago a notification abolishing the fixed quota for women. In this context, assistant inspector general of the police, Dost Ali Ghulam Haider, told Dawn that the Sindh Police now offers equal opportunities to both genders and women can apply for any position. However, he commented, “policewomen are not currently working to their optimum level. They should play a more active role in day to day policing and press for the rights that are due to them. Some of them have been sidelined over the years.”
In terms of women’s role in investigations, Mr Haider said that policewomen are normally discouraged in this regard and they also tend to avoid the job. “Policing is a 24-hour job, underpaid and high-risk,” he said. “Few women opt for it and those who do are reluctant to get involved in investigations since it involves a lot of stress and leg-work: making arrests, producing the accused persons in court and at various forums during the course of the investigation, and subsequently attending court on every hearing scheduled.”