LAHORE: In a bid to avoid incidents like the motorway gang rape, the Okara district police has taken initiatives for women’s empowerment, including posting of women police officers as station house officers in rural areas; and making the police complainant in rape/sexual assault, domestic violence, forced/under-aged marriage cases etc.

It has also shortlisted 500 mosques and imambargahs from a total of 800 in the district, asking clerics to deliver sermons during Friday prayers on Islamic teachings against rape, torture on women, harassment, education, their role and respect in society etc. Later, this concept will be replicated to the union council level.

The district police has also planned over a dozen seminars over a couple of weeks, including one organised on Thursday that was led by Okara District Police Officer (DPO) Omer Saeed Malik and attended by a large number of women, including human rights activists, judges, lawyers, politicians, doctors, university professors, housewives, police, civil bureaucracy and the media.

Prior to the seminar, a walk was arranged after which the participants gathered at the local arts council hall where Mr Malik, while addressing the participants, said the time had come to redefine the role of women and empower them to take lead in whatever professions they joined.

At the conclusion of the seminar, he gave credit to the inspector general of police and the Sahiwal regional police officer for encouraging him to take such steps.

While talking to Dawn, the DPO said the district police had established a dedicated help desk for women at the DPO office to cater to gender-related crimes such as acid attack, honour killing, eve-teasing, workplace harassment, domestic violence, sexual assaults, forced and under-aged marriages. Additionally, a separate helpline will be functional round the clock to listen to and promptly respond to the grievances of all women irrespective of their age, caste and class. “This desk will be run by women police officers who have been especially trained for such cases,” the DPO added.

The police department is also training women officers to counsel assault victims with the coordination of public health officers. “If such measure is appropriately implemented, it will go a long way in bringing a victim back to her normal life,” he said.

Another point that puts a question mark on the efficacy of the criminal justice system is conviction in honour killing cases. The DPO said the Okara police had found a novel, but effective way to improve conviction rates in such cases. He asserted that in every incident of honour killing, police will be the complainant so that the murder could not be compounded by a relative.

Recently, Mr Malik said, the police became complainant in an honour killing case within the Depalpur sub-division. The case was registered at Choorasta police station, Okara district with a sub-inspector as the complainant.

The station house officer (SHO) of the above-mentioned rural police station was Munazza Muhammad Ali who holds a masters degree in Urdu literature. She was recently posted there in order to encourage women complainants and make the environment conducive to pursuing cases. SHO Ali is the first woman to be appointed to the position in the district.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2020