Policing women

Hundreds of officers gather to share law enforcement expertise

Policing women
Imagine forgetting your national dress for an event taking place in Cairns in Queensland, Australia and the embarrassment of being reminded that you had been warned over email to come prepared. How would you deal with this double challenge: getting your hands on a shalvaar kameez and avoiding embarrassment?

You would, of course, take to Twitter and experience its incredible powers. This is exactly what I did one hour before taking a three-hour flight to Cairns from Melbourne. I tweeted the simple question: Did any Pakistani live in this beautiful town surrounded by some spectacular coral reefs and ancient rain-forests?

Within minutes someone based in Sydney responded, saying he knew a guy in Cairns. An exchange of details ensued and lo and behold, as we were heading out of the Cairns airport, a Pakistani man called Arshad Malik called. What can I do for you, he asked. I told him about the need for a shalvaar kameez and the professional accountant with the Skyrail Systems gladly obliged with one the colour of the Pakistan flag (a green kurta and white trouser) that made me proud as we walked through the city streets on September 18. The occasion was a Parade of Nations, held to mark the presence of nearly a thousand female police officers drawn from 63 nations.

Locals as well as tourists looked on as the foreign officers marched past on their way to the conference venue at the Cairns Convention Center. About a dozen women police officers of different cadres, dressed in their police and paramilitary fatigues, represented Pakistan both in the parade and at the conference.

The women police officers, drawn from across the Asia-Pacific region and all dressed in their national uniforms, had all converged on Cairns to participate in the 17th International Women and Law Enforcement Conference (Sept 17-21). In about two dozen individual sessions and panel discussions, local guest speakers, including senior Australian police commissioners, picked on themes such as women’s role in peace and security in an international context, benefits of gender-responsive policing, gender imbalance, social and political discrimination within the institution, response to offences against women,  mainstreaming of women’s voices against excesses through effective women’s policing.

As I listened to these perspectives, in the presence of several hundred women, I felt as if I were at a United  Nations of women police officers. The speakers included Angela Workman-Stark, a retired Chief Superintendent for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Justice Shiranee Tilakawardane, a former Sri Lankan Supreme Court judge, Shahala Pervin from Bangladesh and Debbie Platz, the president of the Australasian Council of Women and Policing.
One of the keynote speakers pointed out the shortcomings of present-day policing, regardless of place. It rests on a deeply entrenched system that is driven more by a reactive approach instead of specific,
informed responses

The overarching message, though was more or less the same; empowered women can work wonders. Also, the best way to fight prejudice and discrimination or harassment at work is to focus on work, stay above board and not shirk decisions that you are authorized to take. Act as leaders, was Workman-Stark’s advice. The fight for indiscriminate treatment at societal and institutional levels remains a continuous struggle, underlined Margaret Shorter, president of the International Association of Women Police.

In Australia, it was obvious that a conscious effort was being made to ensure women have access to equal opportunities; women make some 40 percent of the Australian Federal Police force too. Their presence in important positions is visible wherever you go. One indicator for this recognition was the annual awards for best officers; the majority went to women officers in a grand ceremony accompanying the official dinner.

We must continue our conscious efforts to promote female participation in all spheres of governance, Shorter underlined. Such global gatherings offered a great opportunity for sharing experiences and could help women officers play a critical role in community safety in difficult times. Change also requires courageous decisions and actions without care for fear or favour, argued Platz.

One of the keynote speakers pointed out the shortcomings of present-day policing,  regardless of place. It rests on a deeply entrenched system that is driven more by a reactive approach instead of specific, informed responses. This system needs to change if gender-sensitive and effective community policing is the goal.

One of the sessions dealt with the role of women in Pakistani police and society at large as well as social, institutional and political impediments in their way. Pakistani speakers including Gulmina Bilal explained the difficult socio-political context that women wade through while living and working in Pakistan. Most of participants listened in awe as we spoke of how some political televangelists such as Orya Maqbool Jan or the late Junaid Jamshed openly used Islam to denigrate women and project them as inferior human beings fit only to raise children. Patriarchal, tribal mindsets, we said, continue to imperil women’s rights which also is obvious in the police and other strands of governance.

But drawing on shining stars of Pakistan such as Benazir Bhutto, legal mind Asma Jehangir, mountaineer Samina Khayal Baig, legislators Dr Fahmida Mirza and former ambassador Senator Sherry Rehman, Justice Nasira Javed Iqbal, Maj-Gen Dr Shahida Malik, the late PAF pilot Marium Mukhtiar, we also highlighted the accomplishments of Pakistani women and their contributions to female-focused legislation.

The idea was to convey that Pakistan is not all a negative story and that despite social, cultural and institutional impediments such as those in the rest of South Asia, scores of them are actively working on national causes as well as struggling to break through patriarchal structures.

Application of force: Pakistani female officers attend conference

Karachi City Division SP Shahla Qureshi was one of the officers who went from across Pakistan to the 17th International Women and Law Enforcement Conference in Australia. She told The Friday Times that it was a “wonderful” experience for them because they were able to network and get exposure to the wider community. She was particularly interested in hearing about the experiences of fellow officers from the Maldives and Bangladesh. The officers from Pakistan discovered that women officers from other countries faced much of the same challenges such as being underpaid and not being given the same access to resources as their male counterparts. They did not get enough encouragement either as the men did.

Women officers are a fraction, just 1.4% or 6,000, of the entire police force in Pakistan. “Sindh has 1,662 women in all ranks,” SP Qureshi said. “With the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006, however, women started entering the police force.” This area was previously off limits for them. Today 45 women have been inducted as ASPs after doing their CSS exams.

SP Qureshi found that the difference was that fundamental rights were stressed in other countries. Here women are not made aware of their rights, which is why, as one survey in 2013 showed, about 60% of women believed that their husband had a right to beat them. This makes it all the more important today, SP Qureshi believes, for young women, college students, to be educated about domestic violence. The system of shelters needs to be strengthened and support must be given to women who are shamed away from “court, katchehri”. It will take us 200 years to stop thinking that a woman can only leave her husband’s home in a casket, she said.

Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad