Were it not for Officer Afshan, Swabi’s Nasreen Bibi* might never have entered a police station to lodge a complaint. Her husband had levelled baseless accusations at her and tortured her, and Nasreen was left with no option but to approach the local police station in Kalu Khan.

“I had arrived from the village of Dagai; I approached the female official at the women’s desk with my complaint,” narrates Nasreen. “The officer then sent male policemen to bring my husband over to the station. He apologised for his mistakes, and pledged before the cops that he would not repeat them.”

Nasreen found the assistance so useful that her trust in the police was reposed. Based on her experience, she now believes that if something untoward happens again, she would not hesitate to visit the police station again. Officer Afshan had made a huge difference to Nasreen’s life.

These are incremental changes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — young women are not just recognising crimes committed against them, but are now also standing up to be counted in policing and law enforcement across the province.

In Malala Yousufzai’s home province, young women are slowly but surely assuming more policing duties

One such brave woman is Dr Anoosh Masood: she is the first-ever woman assistant superintendent of police (ASP) in the province. “I opted to join the police because I knew I would find a huge forum to help people; more women are needed in this field,” remarks Dr Masood.

But she is not the only one: another young woman, Sonia Shamroz, who belongs to a prominent family of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is currently undergoing training at the National Police Academy (NPA) and will report to the province once she has graduated.

In July last year, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had introduced women desks in about 56 police stations across the province. Ihsan Ghani, a former inspector general of police presently serving as director general of the National Police Bureau, argues that the purpose of setting up the female counters was to facilitate women who would not enter a male-dominated police station, or were reluctant to visit male counters to lodge their complaints.

“These desks were set up to provide help to women through women cops, so that they can be better heard and helped,” says Ghani. The plan was to introduce the desks at all the police stations to facilitate women complainants. Swabi and Swat were the first districts to set up female counters at the women police station, followed by Peshawar and other districts. However, a few police stations are yet to get the facility.

And yet, the initiative has started showing tangible benefits.

“Women were reluctant to visit police stations but when they came to know about the women desks, they started turning up to register their complaints,” recalls Officer Afshan. She was among the first three policewomen who took over the job of lodging complaints for women complainants at her separately established desk.

The poor ratio of women among police officers is also reflected by the fact that there are only 16 women among hundreds of PSPs in the country. The ratio of junior female officers would be probably higher in the National Highways and Motorway Police, where they can be seen patrolling in almost all parts.

The success of the women’s complaint desk has coalesced well with the aspiration of young women such as Dr Anoosh Masood. Having won a gold medal in Medicine, Dr Masood was a busy medic before she donned the police uniform.

“It is good to be in mainstream policing; the job is quite challenging,” she says. Dr Masood was first posted in Lahore but later transferred to the picturesque Abbottabad district to join up with her family. Her spouse is also an ASP-Under Training in Abbottabad.

“I preferred Pakistan over the US for my specialisation,” recalls the young ASP from the 40th Common Training Programme (CTP) of the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP). “Women are more dedicated. And being a PSP officer is more a kind of an administrative job, which is why I preferred it over medicine.”

The induction of more women in the police force started from Abbottabad; the tranquility in the city lends itself to more favourable conditions for women officers as compared to other districts of the volatile KP. This is probably why the two female cops promoted as deputy superintendents of police (DSPs) in mid-September were both from Abbottabad. Nazia Noreen, promoted as DSP, was also serving as station house officer (SHO) of the Women Police Station in Abbottabad till her promotion. Another DSP, Shahzadi Noushad, is presently posted in the Police Training College in Hangu.

“Both the officers promoted to the rank of DSP, Shahzadi and Nazia, are professional, experienced and committed police officers. We have another female officer, Inspector Samina Zafar, as the in-charge of the complaint cell at the district police officer’s (DPO) office,” remarks Abbottabad DPO Mohammad Ali Gandapur.

According to Gandapur, the in-charge of the complaints cell as well as the station house officers (SHOs) of the women police station are dealing with cases, complaints and matters related to women — either as complainants or as the accused. He was full of praise for Dr Masood too. “The attachment of ASP-UT Dr Anoosh Masood is almost over. She will graduate from the NPA in a couple of months, and will report to the central police officer in Peshawar for further posting,” adds Gandapur.

Swabi DPO Sajjad Khan too believes that the women’s desks across the district are doing a great job in delivering justice to women. “We have appointed educated and committed female officers at these desks to better help out complainants from their own gender,” he says.

The provincial police bosses have recently decided to give 10 percent quota to women in recruitment in all ranks. The province normally recruits constables on their own, while assistant sub-inspectors and in some cases sub-inspectors through the provincial public service commission. The province is to recruit 29 females as assistant sub-inspectors through PCS in the coming months. Female constables and head constables can also compete for over 320 posts of ASIs that are to be selected from the in-service cops.

“It is good to see women getting promotions in police, but more women need to be promoted to higher levels as well — as DIGs, AIGs and IGs,” says Bushra Gohar, former MNA and central vice-president of the Awami National Party (ANP). “At all levels, 33pc women are required to ensure meaningful improvement. Mostly women are restricted to the lowest levels with very few opportunities of upward mobility. Women face huge challenges working in the Police department,” says Gohar.

According to a media report in 2013, Pakistan has only 0.89pc women in the police force; this ratio is seven percent in India, 1.9pc in Bangladesh, 27pc in UK, and 12pc in the United States. The federal capital had 1.2pc females in its police force.

The poor ratio of women among police officers is also reflected by the fact that there are only 16 women among hundreds of PSPs in the country. The ratio of junior female officers would be probably higher in the National Highways and Motorway Police, where they can be seen patrolling in almost all parts.

Helena Rizwan, was the first ever female to have been recruited in the PSP track as ASP. Belonging to the 23rd CTP, Helena remained all alone across the country before Maria Mahmood was recruited in the 35th CTP. And then women started finding their way into the force as senior cops. Helena was recruited in 1997 while the second ASP Maria joined the police force in 2010.

Twelve women ASPs have graduated from the NPA since 1997, while four ASPs are about to graduate in a couple of months. In 2011, four women graduated as ASPs, including Amara Athar, Shaista Rehman and Nida Riaz Chatta from Punjab and Syed Zahida Bukhari from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Sindh got its first female ASP the very next year when Irum Awan passed out from the NPA. Two other ASPs in her batch included Irum Abbasi from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Riffat Haider from Punjab. In the last three years, one ASP was recruited in 2012, two in 2013 while four will pass out this year. Among the 16 ASPs so far, the highest number, 10, came from Punjab. Sindh, Punjab and KP all have got two each ASPs so far.

A female police inspector Ghazala Syed made headlines in April this year, when she was posted as first female SHO in Karachi. She was tasked to lead the force of Clifton police station. She was soon followed by two other ladies, who were appointed SHOs within a few weeks time.

Till last year, women were posted as SHOs only of women’s police stations, most of which are not very effective. Two female police stations were established in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one each in Peshawar and Abbottabad, on the directives of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the mid 1990s. However, both police stations are yet to lodge a single FIR, and only help other police stations in conducting raids or keeping a female accused in their lockup.

But perhaps, the past is all set to change — despite their few numbers, policewomen have not only performed well but have also sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. Shazia Gul of the Nowshera district police was the first female cop to have sacrificed her life in May 2011; she was deployed at the entrance of the district courts when a bomb went off at the main gate. Slowly but surely, women are protecting and defending Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The writer can be contacted at kashifaziz88@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 19th, 2014



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