On 25th January 1994, the 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. In 2021, the initiative will be twenty-five 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 the future. For this, few points are being highlighted, which may help in informing the policymakers, legal and policy practitioners, and civil society working on the subject.
In terms of numbers, the initiative has been replicated in all the provinces. According to a report titled ‘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, one in Hyderabad, and one in Larkana), two (Peshawar and Abottabad) in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP), 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 the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) that does count the total numbers 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 the population or the 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.
The limitations of the legal framework
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 in Pakistan are oriented on a 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 the victim living far away from a women police station, it is not possible for her 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 kilometers 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 women police station is likely to be adjudicated by a territorial magistrate/court. Amongst other factors, this is the single most important factor that has kept the initiative relatively less robust.
Another important point is 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 the main police reforms discourse to attract a maximum number of civil society and citizens to the larger issue of criminal justice reforms and better service delivery.
Competition for resources
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 favor 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.
Evidence collection and its processing in criminal cases, in general, and in GBV cases, in particular, needs special attention. Most often than not, emphasis is laid on DNA evidence, which is but part of a larger spectrum of forensic evidence. Medical evidence, which is easy and efficient to collect and the process is not being accorded much attention.
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.
Read more: Role of DNA Evidence in rape cases
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 the criminal justice system.
Reforming the criminal justice system
Establishing women police stations was a step towards functional specialization, which is the dominant trend in the developed world. The initiative sustained twenty-five 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 the public sector. This number, however, is still much less than the required. There is a need to add at least an 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 the criminal justice system has to be addressed to bring about a qualitative change in the situation on the ground.
Kamran Adil is currently serving as Deputy Inspector General of Police. He studied law at Oxford University and writes and lectures on international law. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.