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Employees of women’s centre go on strike in Multan

Updated March 08, 2019

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MULTAN: Posters demanding payment of salaries to staff put up outside the building of the Violence Against Women Centre.—Dawn
MULTAN: Posters demanding payment of salaries to staff put up outside the building of the Violence Against Women Centre.—Dawn

MULTAN: The staff of the Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan has gone on strike for not having been paid salaries for the past nine months. Merely the prosecution cell and the women’s police station established on the premises are functional.

The centre, practically closed, is also suffering due to the non-payment of electricity and gas utility bills, while for the past two weeks, water supply has been disrupted as the centre’s turbine is out of order.

The centre was established by the Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit in 2017 to provide psychological, legal, forensic, investigation, medico-legal, examination and rehabilitation facilities under one roof to female victims of violence. Police staff was deployed to facilitate the lodging of FIRs, the cell later being converted (on March 17, 2017) into a women’s police station on the request of the Strategic Reforms Unit. The idea was to bring all justice delivery departments under one roof to investigate cases of crimes against women.

Acting SSP Shabeena Karim is supervising police station’s affairs, which is staffed by female inductees. And a few days earlier, CPO Imran Mehmood directed all SHOs of the district to immediately register an FIR over any complaint of violence against women, along with sending copies of the report to the SP VAWC. Two female lawyers are working in the prosecution cell, but the courtroom that had been constructed on the premises has never been used and remains locked.

Since the establishment of the VAWC, 2,934 cases of violence were reported to the centre until the end of February, of which 1,805 cases required recourse to the police.

Issues include non-payment of salaries, allocation of funds for utility bills

SHO Iram Hanif told Dawn that “during the current year, we have so far received 93 cases that required police intervention, of which 60 have been disposed of, 11 have been referred to the prosecution cell, and 18 for mediation”. She added that since the establishment of the centre, the police have lodged 73 FIRs, while 192 cases had been referred to the prosecution cell, 166 cases have been sent for mediation and 28 have been referred to the physiologist; reconciliation was initiated in 483 cases.

According to SHO Hanif, the police staff has not joined the strike since they are not facing the same hardships. “The unavailability of water is the only problem the police staff has been facing for the past week,” she said. “We have informed the City Police Officer who has directed the staff concerned to resolve the issue.”

Sana Javed, in charge of the VAWC, confirmed that some 42 employees of the centre have been on strike for the last couple of days, and that they have not been paid salaries for the past nine months. However, she explained, efforts are under way to have a supplementary grant approved to run the centre’s affairs. The establishment’s utility bills remain unpaid, she said, but disconnections had been staved off with the help of the commissioner and deputy commissioner of Multan. “We are making all-out efforts to get the grant sooner, but it may take approximately one and a half more months to materialise due to inter-departmental procedures,” she said.

Former director general of the Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit Salman Sufi told Dawn that after legislation, the centre had been given over to the Women’s Protection Authority (WPA), adding that funds of Rs500 million were allocated at the same time. According to him, the involvement of WPA ceased when the centre was subsequently put under the charge of the social welfare department, without any allocation of funds, and that a campaign has been initiated for the government to intervene.

“If it were handed to our department, I have already held exchanges with finance donors,” said Mr Sufi, explaining that three similar projects had been approved for Faisalabad, Sargodha and Rawalpindi, and these centres were ready to be launched. Human resource and procurement for these centres had been approved, he said, but now the entire process was at a halt. The problem, he said, was a lack of political interest. “Former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif was sensitive to the issue, which is why such initiatives were his priority,” he observed. “But if the government will not take interest in such affairs, the bureaucracy will also have little interest.”

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2019