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Basmeen Zaman speaking to female complainants.—Photo by writer
Basmeen Zaman speaking to female complainants.—Photo by writer

AT a typical, male-dominated police station in the centre of Peshawar, Basmeen Zaman sits in an office curtained off with bamboo shades. She is in charge of the women’s desk at the Gulbahar station, where for two years she has assisted dozens of female complainants in cases ranging from domestic abuse to property disputes.

Zaman’s simple office is one of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s seven model police stations, introduced as part of police reforms aimed at helping women. The idea was born in acknowledgement to the generally poor perception of the police across the country, coupled with cultural and traditional barriers that deter Pakhtun women from interacting with male officials.

“Recently, I raided a house located in Islamabad Colony in the Gulbahar area over a domestic violence issue,” says Zaman, explaining the nature of cases she deals with. “Another time there was a dispute between a woman and her daughter-in-law, which we resolved at the police station after mediating a lengthy dialogue.” She shares how she helped a mother and son regarding the sale of their car.

The success of the women’s desks is substantial. Figures provided by the officials here reveal that whereas 2014 and 2015 saw the resolution of 73 and 124 women-related issues, respectively, this year has seen an unprecedented 218 cases so far. Seven model police stations have been established across the province –– one each in Swabi, Mardan, Charsadda and Nowshera, with three in Peshawar.

Nadia Bukhari, in charge of the desk at the Town police station since 2014, elaborates on their success saying that women police officials effectively understand and handle female complainants far more prudently than their male counterparts.

It is that sensibility which prevailed in the case of Peshawar resident Haji Ghulam Rasool. Having previously convened three jirgas regarding his son-in-law, Rasool could not deter him from divorcing his daughter. He says that the couple’s differences were reconciled after amiable intervention from the women’s desk, where the matter was dealt with appropriately.

“Due to mediation by a woman police officer of the Town station, both man and wife now live a prosperous life,” says Rasool. “No divorce will take place.”

Although the initiative has borne fruit, there are structural and administrative challenges. Zaman complains that she often has to come in to work at 3am to deal with cases. On paper, each desk is supposed to have two women supervisors but that is not yet a reality. Aside from long work hours, she says uncooperative administrative staff and the requirement that a male police official accompany her for fieldwork hinders the process.

Still, Zaman feels the women’s desks are a step in the right direction, as they encourage women to speak openly and comfortably about sensitive issues such as rape and harassment. The establishment of these desks has also bolstered the number of women police recruits in the province, which now boasts 628 female officials.

In their midst is Rizwana Tofail, station house officer at a women’s police station in the city’s Central Police Office, who feels the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police department took an exemplary step in setting up these desks. She explains how after much deliberation over the matter, women police officials drafted a proposal for Inspector General of the Police Nasir Khan Durrani to set up these desks.

Tofail aims to address the problem of the lack of resources to deal with women’s cases, with a plan to introduce 52 more desks across police stations in the province. She also explains the role of Uzma Mehboob of the Aitebar Project –– an organisation funded by the British government –– which has provided technical and administrative support to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police department in establishing these desks.

Mehboob says that the organisation trains women police officials to investigate cases and sensitises them about attending to and conversing with victims as well as keeping an efficient computerised record of filed cases.

“It is an achievement of the police department that male police officials, females and citizens in general are accepting the role, presence and performance of the women’s desks,” Mehboob says, adding that five psychologists have been appointed at various police stations to provide additional help and counselling to victims and complainants.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2016