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THE IMPORTANCE AND ROLE OF PAKISTANI WOMEN OFFICERS IN A SYSTEM OF PATRIARCHY AND VICTIM BLAMING


Anniesa Hussain

Souce: Nato Multimedia Library

Pakistan has a population of over 230 million and is one of the largest countries in the world. It has a rural population of 55.7% and urban population of 44.3%. There are five major ethnic groups in Pakistan. 

Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, Lahore and Rawalpindi are dominated by Punjabis, who account for 53% of the population. The majority of Pashtuns (13%) inhabit Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Sindhis (12%) and Muhajirs (8%), mostly reside in Sindh province, home to Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan. Baluchis (5%) are concentrated in Quetta, Baluchistan province. 

Pakistan is known for its ongoing security crisis since its partition from India in 1947, split from Bangladesh (formerly known as East Pakistan) in 1971 and numerous wars in Kashmir. 

Pakistan’s attempts to implement democracy have been interrupted by the imposition of martial law, with numerous suspensions of four constitutions through military coups, and ongoing conflicts between religious and ethnic groups perpetuated by the need to attain political power. Pakistan’s security crisis lies in its lack of a national identity. 

Patriarchy in Police & Society 

The police sector is reflective of Pakistan’s patriarchal culture. The prevailing perception of the police is that they are prone to bribery and corruption, unresponsive or slow to tend to the scene of a crime. Women in particular tend to go to the police as a last resort, as male officers are often inept in dealing with physical and/or sexual violence against women, or at times perpetrate further abuse. 

The rape of a mother along Lahore-Sialkot motorway on 9 September, 2020 is a case in point. The young mother had called the motorway police after her car had broken down but they refused her help as her location was beyond their jurisdiction. Later, the Police Chief of Lahore appeared before the national press, stating that the victim should have travelled on a busier road and checked her fuel level, rather than condemning the rapists. 

Yet, victim-blaming in sexual abuse cases is common among police men and sometimes carried out by them. In 2017, a young woman from Rawalpindi reported to the police that she had been gang-raped by four men, three of which were police officers. In September 2018, a police official was charged with raping a 6-year-old, and in April 2019 an assistant sub-Inspector was charged with the rape of a woman. Both incidents occurred in Punjab district. 

Statistics concerning police abuses towards women are rarely published in the public domain. In 1991, Human Rights Watch published ‘Double Jeopardy: police abuse of women in Pakistan’, which stated more than 70% of women reported physical and sexual abuse whilst under police custody, yet no officer was successfully prosecuted nor charged.

Sexual abuse towards women is also rampant across Pakistani society. Women’s Rights NGO, White Ribbon Pakistan recorded more than 15,000 honour crimes committed against women, between 2004-2016. In recent years this figure has surged between 2011-2017. Media reports cite over 51, 241 violent cases against women, yet a conviction rate of 2.5%. 

There is a growing recognition for an increase in female personnel in security, particularly within the police. Women are more likely to feel more comfortable to enter police stations where police women are present, and the risk of sexual harassment toward them could be reduced. 

Women in the security sector 

The vast majority of women in security are in the Military and Police. According to World Bank statistics in 2017, there are 936,000 serving Pakistan’s Armed Forces, of which 4,000 are women. In the Police sector, there are 5,731 police women and 391,364 police men (women account for 1.2% of the total national police force). 

In 1994, Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, established women-only police stations in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Abbottabad, Peshawar, Lahore, Multan, Karachi and Larkana. The National Police Bureau set up the Womens Police Network in 2012, in which ten police organisations work together to promote women’s leadership in the police force. Women desks were set up in police stations, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where only female officers deal with women sexually abused or raped. 

However, there is still a lack of police women. The local government in Sindh province set a target in 2017 for 1,500 more police women.

National Police Bureau statistics (2017) on women in the police sector, according to region:

● Islamabad: 278 police women, ( 2.8%) 

● Punjab: 2, 804 police women, (1.8%) 

● Sindh: 1,498 police women, (1.5%) 

● Azad Kashmir: 129 police women, (1.6%) 

● Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK): 683 police women, (1%) 

In the last few years, the role women in security play in Pakistani society and abroad has gained national and international traction. In accordance with UN peacekeeping targets in 2017, Pakistan increased female deployment in UN Peacekeeping missions to 15%.

 Some notable examples of women in security include: 

● Helena Saeed: first woman to join as an Assistant Patrol Officer, worked in the Police Department for 27 years, first woman to be promoted to Additional Inspector General in 2016 

● Suhai Talpur: Assistant Superintendent rewarded with a promotion, after she led a successful operation against militants attacking the Chinese consulate in Karachi in 2018

 ● Shahzadi Gulfam: Deputy Superintendent and first Pakistani woman deployed in UN Missions, won the 2011 International Female Peacekeeper Award for her work in Timor Leste

● General Nigar Johar: third major General in Pakistan history, promoted in 2017

● Sonia Shamroz Khan: first police woman to be promoted as principal of police training school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in 2019 

● UN Peacekeepers: first Pakistani female team to receive recognition by the UN for their efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2020 

However, women face cultural and hierarchical opposition to working in the security sector, in spite of Pakistan’s National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325, to increase women’s participation in peacebuilding and security. 

Many women interested in becoming police officers face opposition primarily from their families. Women are perceived as too weak, not respectable enough to adhere to, and temperamentally unfit to fulfill the role of a police officer. The working environment for security women mirrors the honour-based society. Those who command a high rank are respected amongst their peers, families and general public, whereas lower-ranking police women can be harassed and disregarded by male colleagues and families. 

Yet in spite of the hostile environment security women face, many desire to serve as frontline personnel. 

“This is not an easy job. But being a good police officer requires you to be courageous, tolerant and have the strength to withstand pressure. It’s not a position which is gender specific but personality specific,” stated Assistant Sub-Inspector Sameena Sarwar. 

“Women have to step up and join every field. We are 52%. How can we not?” 

Sources

[1] Britannica, Pakistan ttps://www.britannica.com/place/Pakistan 

[2] 'Blaming the Victim for Sexual Violence in Pakistan' https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/14/blaming-victim-sexual-violence-pakistan

[3] 'Rape Allegations Against Pakistan’s Police' https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/23/rape-allegations-against-pakistans-police

[4] 'Double Jeopardy:Police Abuse of Women in Pakistan' https://www.hrw.org/reports/1992/pakistan/

[5] 'World Bank Statistics: Armed Forces Personnel' https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.TOTL.P1 

[6]''https://www.dawn.com/news/1329292 

[7] 'Islamabad meets UN Peacekeeping benchmark of 15% female deployment' https://www.dawn.com/news/1463581 

[8] 'KP Police training school gets first woman principal' https://www.dawn.com/news/1473776 

[9] 'Sindh government increases female quota from 2% to 5%' https://www.dawn.com/news/1377769/sindh-govt-increases-female-police-quota-from-2pc-to-5 pc

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