Pakistan’s first women police station was inaugurated by former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on January 25, 1994. Unfortunately, the initiative failed as no preparations had been made to recruit female officials needed to make the station operational. Since then, Pakistan has improved to some degree in setting up a few women police stations, creating dedicated front desks and recruiting and placing female police officials in the force. The latest development in this regard has taken place in Kurram, Parachinar, where the first women police reporting centre has been inaugurated. This is a particularly encouraging development in the context of gender rights in the former federally-administered territory.

There is ample evidence to suggest that the presence of a female official goes a long way in making the justice system more accessible to women. The traditional male-oriented police stations fail to provide a conducive environment where women would feel comfortable and safe. Complainants often need to share highly sensitive information regarding their personal circumstances that may involve violence, sexual abuse, discrimination and other difficult subjects. The problem is exacerbated by social norms, moral and tribal codes that prohibit women from coming forward.

Annual reports on violence against women and gender disparity reveal that this is a countrywide issue, not at all restricted to rural or tribal areas. Therefore, it would be in error to assume that women in tribal areas are oppressed and those in cities enjoy their rights under the protection of law. Though it is certainly true that tribal societies in Pakistan follow a more rigid social code that makes it relatively harder for women to enjoy their rights as guaranteed by the constitution. This phenomenon can only be addressed through a multi-pronged strategy which must entail education, gender development, better governance, rule of law and gender-focused policymaking and legislation. The development in Kurram is a good move, but Pakistan has a long way to go before it can claim to be a just place for women. A state cannot be a neutral entity; it either reinforces gender oppression or wholeheartedly works to combat patriarchy.