LAHORE: The establishment of Violence against Women Centres (VAWCs) is expected to bring about a big change, says Salman Sufi, senior member of the Special Monitoring Unit on Law and Order – a separate section coordinating with the Punjab government on the issue – and the brains behind the project.
Currently, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has approved their idea of establishing these centres in Punjab’s districts along with passing the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015 by March 8. However, the plan is to establish the first prototype in Multan district by December and later replicate the model in other districts, beginning with south Punjab where violence against women is higher.
The crisis centres already operating will be used instead of constructing new buildings.
“We are not going to waste extra funds in unnecessary construction,” he said. “Instead we will utilise the infrastructure that we already have and add to it if need be. The point is to bring all the departments dealing with reporting of violence against women crimes under one roof,” Sufi told Dawn exclusively.
He explained that in the present situation women had to first go all the way to a police station, which proved to be intimidating. They then have to repeat all details of the violence, whether it was a rape or an acid attack. Their interactions in court also were often humiliating for them and more than often they lost their cases because there was little first information and forensic evidence, so the lawyer did not have much to fight the case with.
“We are going to bring police representatives, a prosecutor, and secure the whole building to dispel any threats or intimidation,” Sufi said. “This means there can be no direct incoming calls and everyone who comes in will be under surveillance.”
He says a woman will only have to come in and record a verbal statement once, which will be saved in a software. The representatives who will help the victim women will be females.
Hafsah Rehman, an analyst in the same SMU, says there are reasons for a gap in justice delivery.
“Apart from untrained personnel, who do not know how to collect information, often enough victims retract statements because of threats, and medical examination is conducted 24 hours after the assault, which weakens prosecution. In Punjab, six women are murdered or attempted to murder daily, eight raped, 11 battered and assaulted and 32 abducted,” she says, quoting information given by the Punjab DIG Investigation Branch.
Unfortunately, she says, because of weak cases and also many times chauvinism within courts, conviction rate is only about one to 2.5pc according to Punjab Public Prosecution Department.
“One important point is that the woman will not have to run from place to place for justice. She will find everything from lodging first information reports to collection of medical evidence all in one building,” Sufi says.
The VAWCs will be operational 24 hours with all facilities women-run. Also, the case flow process will be streamlined with real-time data integration between all relevant departments, whose server, says Sufi, will be in a safe location so no one can tamper with it.
Affiliations with various organisations will be made to assist victims’ placement integrate into society. Victims will be placed in shelter homes after investigation. There will be audio-visual recording of all actions and a helpline and transport to facilitate victims.
“Pakistan will be the first country in the region to launch such an initiative,” Sufi claims.
Mumtaz Mughal, regional coordinator of Aurat Foundation, called this initiative “excellent and commendable”.
“Hopefully, it will be successful but challenges, if there are any, will only come up after the pilot project is launched. However, I do believe that this will need an awareness campaign so more women know about it,” she added.
Published in Dawn March 4th , 2015