The event was organised by Individualland, a research-based consultancy and advocacy group, supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
The session was presided over by retired additional inspector general of police Niaz Ahmed Siddiqui.
Three studies — Women Police in Pakistan, Male Police Perception of Women Police in Pakistan and Public Perception of Women Police in Pakistan — published by the consultancy with a visual documentary, Elements of Change, were launched at the session.
The documentary included interviews with various women police officers, most of whom were unhappy owing to lack of facilities, little scope for promotions, etc.
While carrying out the research for the three reports, the authors — Gulmina Bilal Ahmad, Yahya Ahmad, Sundas Syeda, Khurram Saleem — searched for answers to several questions of which the two basic ones were the number of women police personnel in Pakistan and whether their work had been highlighted by any organisation.
The first question got different answers from different people and the second brought up a counter question: “Have our women police ever done anything worth highlighting?” Yahya Ahmad said that after getting varied data from different sources, they decided to directly approach the police to get the figures for each city from them.
The official data collected by the research team has been printed in the form of a poster, which the Individualland team admitted was incorrect.
“The correct findings about contributions made by outstanding women police personnel, the issues and challenges faced by them along with suggestions for gender-based police reforms will now be shared at the conclusion of the project after the consultative sessions held by the group at Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Gilgit and Islamabad,” said Gulmina Bilal Ahmad, director of the consultancy and lead author of the published studies, at the first phase of the sessions in Karachi on Monday.
Sundas Syeda said there were 19 women police stations in the whole country with seven in Gilgit-Baltistan and none in Balochistan, where there was only a reporting centre. “Here the question emerges if there is a need for a women police station in every district as the women police officers are definitely an asset for Pakistan with some of them also having served with United Nations missions,” she said. “Their training, too, is on a par with male police,” she said. “But are they helping in lowering crime rate?”
It emerged during the session that most women police stations did not even register first information reports (FIRs). Then buildings that were initially constructed as women police stations were later used for other work. In Hyderabad, for instance, the Anti-Encroachment Cell and the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee had also moved into the women police station building.
This brought up the matter of whether there was even a need for separate police stations for women. Rukhsana Siddiqi of the War Against Rape said there definitely was. “Women feel more comfortable sharing their issues with other women. But it is strange to find a male police officer coming to the women's station to pen an FIR of a rape complaint. This is strange when you know that both the male and female police personnel have the same training,” she said. “Therefore I would like to suggest that instead of building separate women police stations we should have a room for women police in every male police station.”
SP Mariam Qazi, who was the first SHO at both the first Islamabad and Karachi women police stations, said it was not that they were not allowed to register FIRs, they were themselves extra cautious before registering one. “We mostly get domestic violence complaints and if we listen to the wife and take to task the husband, the only people who really suffer as a result are their children. So we try to hammer some sense into their heads before taking any harsh step. Another common complaint lodged by women is about their servants having stolen something or other. The matter, too, is easily resolved without any police intervention,” she explained.
Khatib Ahmed of Shehri-CBE said registering FIRs in rape cases was essential. “Without an FIR in a rape case, you can't arrange a medical examination and without a medical examination, you don't have a case, call it domestic violence or whatever,” he said.
Highlighting their woes, SHO-East Sajida Jamali said they had heard about a women police station to be built for them in district east but all they got were two rooms with no lockups or anything as the notification was yet to come. “When the notification arrived, we heard that there were no funds to build a proper police station. So the east police station has now moved into the Ferozabad Police Station,” she said.
SHO Anila from the women police station in district west said their station was built in 2009, but they registered their first FIR only last month.
M. Ali Rasheed also of Shehri-CBE also said women police personnel also needed to be given training in human rights as they should be aware that they were not to treat every accused as a criminal as he had witnessed himself once.
It was also mentioned that most women police officers were not given training in handling weaponry about which PSP AIG State Manager Ashfaq Khan said policewomen should themselves come forward to join the mainstream. He thought that most women in their profession at the moment were hiding behind the excuse of not being given chances by their male colleagues and that they were not being assertive enough. “Still there have been some positive examples of women coming up in the police force by taking charge. Most have been happening in Sindh's interior like there is one SHO in Larkana who is so good at her work that the people of that city took to streets to prevent her transfer to another city when they heard about it,” he said. “There is no need for separate women police stations as women police should join the mainstream and work side by side with men.”
Later, Niaz Ahmed Siddiqui gave his views on the issues discussed during the session. He said women police stations were not an option but a need and as the constitution promotes equal opportunities in all services, the police cannot discriminate against women in their force.
“With equal rights comes equal protection for all citizens of Pakistan. The women police should also be solving the problems of their society by upholding women's rights. They should not even allow their male colleagues to prevent them from doing their work and get involved in regular robbery and murder cases besides enforcing the women-specific laws,” he said adding that women police stations in every district was a requirement.
About the FIRs, he said that even male police officers were reluctant to register FIRs, “which is strange as these are just first information reports and nothing more. The court's charge sheet is not an FIR,” he said. “The police, courts and prisons are the three tiers of law enforcement and proper procedure should be carried by all.”
Other senior police and government officials, representatives of NGOs and media persons also took part in the discussion.