Women Police Stations
Police Reforms and Gender-Based Violence
On 25th January 1994, first woman police station was inaugurated in Rawalpindi, Punjab. The step was considered a milestone and a way forward for access to justice, police reforms and for protection of women in Pakistan. The initiative is now more than twenty-seven years old. This must be seen as a moment of celebration, but, at the same time, it is important to take a pause and consider what has been the outcome of the whole initiative and how it should be strategically leveraged in future. For this, few points are being highlighted which may help in informing the policymakers, legal and police practitioners and civil society working on the subject:
One, in terms of numbers, the initiative has been replicated in all the provinces. According to a report titled as ‘Women in Police’ published by Ms. Gulmina Bilal Ahmed of Individualland, by 2012, there were sixteen women police stations in Pakistan. Since 2012, new developments have taken place. The updated information is that as of today, there are nineteen women police stations in the country. The breakdown is as follows: one in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), three in Punjab (Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad), five in Sindh (three in Karachi and one each in Hyderabad and Larkana), two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (Peshawar and Abbottabad), one in Balochistan (Quetta) and seven in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). A cursory look at these numbers begs attention to many a fact.
In the first place, these numbers should be recorded officially; preferably through Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) that does count total number of police stations, but not segregating the data of women police stations. In addition, the numbers show that the spread is not geographically even and has not been linked to population or number of cases registered. Therefore, there is a need to map the infrastructure of women police stations to better examine the access to justice for women and to gauge their functionality.
Two, the legal framework is not enabling. The archaic Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, (the Code) is primarily designed on territorial lines. Contrary to this territorial scheme of the Code, the women police stations are oriented on functional basis. Unfortunately, a territorially situated police station is more convenient as it offers more access to a victim as compared to a women police station in a big city. From the viewpoint of victim living far away from a women police station, it is not possible to access the police station multiple times. For example, a woman victim of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) from Murree should not be expected to get her case registered in Women Police Station, Rawalpindi, which is situated over eighty kilometres away from her place of residence. Owing to the distance involved, there is every likelihood that a victim located in Murree may like to get her case registered there for the sake of convenience and legal reasons. The case that gets registered in a women police station is likely to be adjudicated by territorial magistrate/court. Amongst other factors, this is the single most important factor that has kept the initiative relatively less robust.
Three, mainstreaming of the concept of women police stations in police reforms discourse. The literature on police reforms evinces that it does not accord the issue the primacy it deserves. One reason for this could be that most of the time and energy of proponents of police reforms is consumed in underscoring the importance of larger themes of the rule of law in the country, which are not ideal. Nonetheless, there is a strong case to make GBV and women protection part of main police reforms discourse to attract maximum number of civil society and citizens to the larger issue of criminal justice reforms and better service delivery.
Four, the competition for resources between women police stations and regular police stations is not at par. Owing to territorial and legal aspects of women police stations, resources often get allocated to territorial units of police than to the functional units. Police leadership tries to address this issue, but things tilt in favour of territorial police stations because of obvious reasons. Information technology may help in this regard as registration of crime may be made territorial-neutral by amending the law and by providing enabling legal provisions for police, prosecution and judiciary to take a more tailored approach towards victims of GBV cases.
Five, evidence collection and its processing in criminal cases in general, and in GBV cases in particular, need special attention. More often than not, emphasis is laid on DNA evidence, which is but part of larger spectrum of forensic evidence. Medical evidence, which is easy and efficient to collect and process, is not being accorded much attention. The medical universities have to develop uniform and easy-to-comprehend medico-legal forms that can be used in GBV cases. The medico-legal experts must be offered protection from unnecessary summoning in criminal trials by offering them protection under law; only in exceptional cases and subject to very defined circumstances the medico-legal experts be summoned in courts. Likewise, para-medico-legal staff should be well trained in GBV cases. The women police stations may be staffed with medico-legal experts to mainstream them in criminal justice system.
Establishing women police stations was a step towards functional specialization, which is the dominant trend in developed world. The initiative has sustained twenty-seven years is in itself a reason to build on it. The total number of women police officers is steadily increasing due to quota-based employment in public sector. This number, however, is still much less than the required. There is need to add at least equal number of female medico-legal officers, prosecutors and judges to bring in desired results. The induction of female police officers and their placement at women police stations may be part of a larger strategy as the whole value chain at criminal justice system has to be addressed to bring about a qualitative change in the situation on the ground.
The author is an independent researcher and has done his BCL from the University of Oxford. Email: email@example.com