Swat: When Fatima Bibi came to know of the special women desk in Rahimabad Police Station in Mingora, she had been in an abusive marriage for seven months. All this time, she had no choice but to quietly bear violence at the hands of her husband who beat her up over domestic issues.

Bibi, 29, had never been to a police station, let alone report a case of intimate partner violence before. Police stations to her were places run by men she couldn’t approach, given Swat’s conservative patriarchal milieu where women are expected to be meek members of a family. They are expected to grin and bear excesses in a marriage instead of resisting them.

But resist she did. As soon as she heard of the special women desk at Rahimabad Police Station where dedicated women officials received and assisted women complainants with their problems.

“It took the officials at the women desk only two days to resolve an issue that had made my life hell for seven months,” says Bibi, her face covered with her shawl.  “They settled the conflict with the mutual consent of both parties.”

She says she is very happy with the decision: “The women police officer listened to my case in a friendly environment. In a written statement, they cautioned my husband to avoid domestic violence or face punishment.”

The Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has upgraded 62 police stations across the province to model police stations to ensure quick justice and rule of law in the province that has seen much violence and conflict in the wake of militancy and breakdown of law and order.

The World Justice Project  rule of law index, the world’s leading source for original data on the rule of law and how it is experienced and perceived by the general public in a country. In its 2016 report for Pakistan, the WJP’s index – that covers 113 countries – puts “Pakistan’s overall rule of law performance places it at 5 out of 6 countries in the South Asia region (with Nepal at the top and Afghanistan at the bottom), and 25 out of 28 among lower-middle income countries, and 106 out of the overall 113 countries and jurisdictions worldwide.”

A developing democracy, says WJP’s report, Pakistan has been struggling since its inception to realize the rule of law through periodic reforms aimed at ending impunity, ensuring government accountability, ensuring fundamental rights, order and security and civil and criminal justice, access to these remain far from fair and effective for communities still, whose perception of the rule of law as experienced in everyday situations remain negative and critical.

The rule of law environment has been further vitiated by terrorism and general breakdown of law and order in its wake since 2001. While the government and the security apparatus has been distracted to address the ever-rising threat and incidents of terror across the country, the understaffed and underequipped police and the justice system has been increasingly drawn into dealing with terrorism, saddled with cases of terrorism and distracted from their routine role of ensuring civil and criminal justice. While the need for community policing and alternative dispute resolution cannot be overestimated in Pakistan where the rule of law is far from effective, say legal and policing experts, it is in times of conflict that these initiatives acquire an certain urgency – to provide relief and support to the justice system while enabling communities, including women for whom access to justice remains elusive, to proactively engage in ensuring law and order at the local level.

The people in terror hit area like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa really appreciate the establishment of model police stations, Deputy Superintendent of Police at Mingora Habib Ullah told News Lens Pakistan.

He further said that beside a well-equipped interrogation room, well trained police officers and an updated complaint cell, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has helped establish a women desk or Ladies Reporting Center specifically for women complainants.

“Due to social stigma and barriers, women in Pashtun community are wary of discussing their issues and matters with men,” said Habib added. “Availability of female police staff 24/7 at the Women Desk makes it easy for ladies to come to the police station, discuss their issues and file complaints any time.”

Sitara Zaibi, a Lady Head Constable, is in-charge of Women Desk at the Rahimabad Police Station. She said the women police officials dealt with eight to ten cases every month that women from the community reported, indicating that women appreciated the initiative.

She said majority of cases were related to intimate partner violence and minor domestic conflicts. “We try to resolve these problems through mutual agreements between both parties,” said Zaibi. “But if the case is sensitive, we refer it to the courts.”

DSP Mingora Habib Ullah told News Lens Pakistan that with the establishment of model police stations, women citizens could now freely and openly visit police stations.

“It is very encouraging for us that they (women) trust us,” said Habib.

He said in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the number of male police officials is around 80,000 whereas there were only 641 women police officials. However, he said, with the establishment of model police stations and a women desk dedicated to women complainants, it is expected that more women would be encouraged to join the police force.

“The establishment of women desk in polices stations has helped and facilitated women in the province who can now easily discuss and lodge complaints regarding their issues,” he said. “Earlier, there was no women staff due to which it was difficult for women to discuss their problems with male police officers.”

While majority of the police stations in KP have been upgraded to model police station, the Peshtakhara Police station in Peshawar has yet to become one. Station House Officer (SHO) Peshtakhra, Sub-Inspector Ijaz Ullah Khan, said there was no desk for women in their police station.

“Due to absence of separate desk for women, they are forced to discuss and lodge their complaints with a muharar (a male police officer),” said Khan.

Ijaz Ullah said they had to seek help from women police officers stationed at other police stations whenever faced with gender-specific cases. Sometimes they referred complainants and offenders to police stations with women desks for the further investigation.

Figures made available by the Peshtakhra police station indicates that out of 32 cases lodged in one month, those lodged by women were only four.

Police Officer Essa Khan said that due to reforms and training, the KP Police was recognized as the best police in Pakistan. “However due to the absence of a women desk at our police station, women are hesitant to record their statements with male police officers.”

He said establishment of women desk was necessary keeping in view the conservative culture of the province so that women were able to report and discuss excesses committed against them.

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