On 17th June, the day of the Model Town massacre, then Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah participated in prominent journalist, Mujeebur Rehman Shami’s program, Nuqta-e-Nazar on Dunya TV. Not only was Rana characteristically unapologetic about the whole tragedy, but his comments about the hapless women mercilessly shot dead by his valiant police gave way to a political philosophy built around machismo medieval ideas of male chauvinism. In a manner of speech, as if he was gloating over the incident, he asked what exactly could be done if Tahirul Qadri chose to surround himself with women as his protectors?

Freudian slips and unguarded comments often expose the real beliefs that set dominant political agendas and define behaviors. The reprehensible incident of the police killing and injuring dozens of PAT workers brings many thoughts to mind, but the one question that stands out in particular is why the police force has such few women officers and whether the presence of women police would have changed what we saw in Lahore on that unfateful June day. Research from all over the world points to the fact that women are generally more effective than their male counterparts in avoiding violence and defusing potentially violent situations. Now that Rana Sanaullah has been fired, maybe he wishes he could have had more females in his police force and then perhaps things on the ground would have gone a little differently.

Farzana Iqbal’s horrific murder outside the Lahore High Court, multiple cases of females being raped where the police have refused to register FIRs, other general violence against females where the perpetrators know they can get away with it; are all different cases of gender based violence about which the Punjab Assembly Women’s Caucus recently voiced its concerns. While expressions of concern are all well and good, we need to proactively think about how to respond to such violence in the most efficient and considerate way possible. One of the easiest ways to deal with it, compassionately and quickly, is to ensure greater female representation in the police. More women in the police force will not only bring a greater element of empathy, diligence and compromise to resolving disputes, but their presence will ensure that female victims of gender based crimes do not feel as intimidated or harassed when registering complaints. This will enhance the empowerment of women in society at large, improving their sense of security, giving them greater access to justice, as well as making a positive impact on other social, economic and political fronts. The Mukhtaran Mais and Aamina Bibis of Pakistan will find it easier to file reports and get their voices heard by the justice system.

Muzaffargarh has been in the media multiple times as the place where horrific sexual crimes have taken place against women; most recently, the rape and murder of a ten year old girl. However, no one has highlighted the fact that it has no all-women police stations and no women officers working in the district! Numbers are difficult to obtain but the Women Police Network estimates that the percentage of women in the Pakistani police force are around 0.89 percent (3700 women police officers), compared to Bangladesh at 1.9 percent and India’s relatively healthier 7 percent. All-women police stations were first introduced in 1994. Yet, twenty years later there are only 19 such stations in Pakistan, out of which eight are in the Punjab, two in Khyber Pakhtunkwa and seven in Sindh. (In comparison, India has over 300 all-women police stations.) Currently, the Punjab police only has a five percent reserve quota earmarked for minorities and women at the constable level. Last year, when the Punjab government passed amendments to the Police Order 2002 on sections concerning recruitment policy, no importance was given to increasing the reserve quota for women to be recruited.

It is interesting that the Indian state of Gujarat, after having been the scene of much communal and individual violence, has recently declared a 33% quota for women in their police force. It helped that the Gujurat Chief Minister is a woman! While legal change in isolation will not achieve female emancipation, it will help to create a more aware society and in time bring about cultural changes. The participation and attendance of Pakistan’s female parliamentarians in the Assemblies tends to be significantly higher than their male counterparts on most issues. In particular, I hope we can look towards the Punjab Women’s Caucus to take up the matter of increasing the number of women in the Punjab police force from rank and file to more senior positions.

The writer is a Director at Governance & Policy Advisors. She graduated from Columbia University.

Np@gapa.com.pk

@GapaAdvisors