May 30, 2010

Work half done!

We now have the Women Harassment Bill
but gender-responsive policing has to be built up much before that comes into action

By Nyla Daud

The woman shifts uneasily on her feet. Battered and bruised to the bones, this one last experience has brought her to the local police station, but where is she to go? Who is she to approach even for registering the offence? The camera zooms on to an anguished profile as, after having borne the verbal and physical scrutiny of the constable at the gate, the chaddar-clad woman wanders helplessly about the thana premises.

There is another longish shot showing the woman surrounded by a herd of apparently amused men (among them a half dressed man with a miswak to his teeth), indulging in irrelevant dialogue directed at the woman. The apathy of the situation becomes more palpable as she is offered free advice from everyone. The grand finale surfaces when she finally lands in the SHO’s office.

This heavy-weight dismisses her with the one remark that about sums up the situation as it exists with reference to female complainants when they go to a police station to register a case of domestic violence: "This is your kismet so go home and make peace with your husband". Till very recently that would have been the end of the story. Yes, we now do have a Bill against the Harassment of Women.

As the video-showing ends and the floor is thrown open to comments, the room full of police trainee officers comes alive with amazing sensitivity. Not one among the group of constables being thus exposed to the ground situation disagrees with the video fact-file. Each and everyone shakes his head in silence when asked if there was any exaggeration in the film. None of them would like a female from his own family to be thus shamefully and apathetically exposed in the name of justice and fair play.

Encouraging individual responses, the trainer wants to build up a list of dos and don’ts of a police officer’s behavior at the police station when a female victim of violence comes to report a crime.

The reasons are obvious: the police service has a defined masculine culture that few in the ranks would dare disclaim. The service has built up an unfortunate signature over the times, having suffered invasions from various cultures, half baked ideologies and misconstrued social concepts. Gradually, with great sensitivity, the facilitator prepares the ground, mentioning gender cautiously. He is well aware that although his trainees are academically qualified to interpret it (the educational profile of the trainee group of police officers ranges from intermediate to Master’s and Law degrees) the word Gender carries shades of foreign intervention and vested agendas.

However, the tide appears to turn as nervous murmurs take the form of loud confident tones and the suggestions come pouring in. The suggestions speak of an altered, albeit heightened degree of sensitivity of human compassion.

This was the third day of the six day training workshop organised by Gender Responsive Policing Project, a joint collaboration of National Police Bureau and German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), aiming to make police gender sensitive and gender responsive. Initiated at the grass root level of the police hierarchy, the programme is aimed at an ultimate renaissance of the entire force which today is unfortunately representative of a strong system of un-justice whose perpetuation has come to be accepted as unalterable.

While male victims of crime can and do withstand the atrocious behavior depicted in the video, it is the women victims who bear the brunt because of their greater vulnerability. Already severely under pressure by domestic handicaps ranging from patriarchal overtures and apprehension and social disapproval of venturing into the big bad world, our women are ignorant about their religious and social rights. Illiteracy and lack of any legal know how makes them the most pitifully deprived and maltreated of the Pakistani population.

The Gender Responsive Policing programme may sound ambitious but it is actually geared to remove the causes of social and psychological discrimination and harassment faced by women victims when they approach a police station for registration of a crime.

"We have zeroed in on Foot and Head Constables for initiating this program because these personnel form the major bulk of the police force. They are the first points of contact with a victim and hold immense power over them. That is why it is imperative that we re-train them for attitudinal changes, for their perceptions of themselves as enforcers of law and order, for their speech, their behaviour, even their body language and basic human right principles as enunciated by Islam."

Coming from a member of the design team of the workshop, this statement belies a major change in the overall policy implementation with regards to local thana culture.

While it would not have needed a rocket scientist to determine the social and official areas where intervention has to be done vis-à-vis the gender and police equation, design directors deputed to implement the programme have obviously gone overboard in making sure that the religious and social sensitivities of those who are being targeted for this very sensational change are not tampered with.

Whatever the long-term prognosis of the gender-responsive policing programme effort, this enhanced respect for probable change in the thana culture became a reality. In the course of six vibrantly interactive working days, trainees were guided along a path of rediscovery. Basic knowledge of human rights and Islamic injunctions regarding the status of women, the role and duties of a police officer at the thana, and the reality of the human genetic code was taught to educate the officers.

Admittedly, the police force is a large rather unwieldy body of hardcore professionals thoroughly rooted in their self-crafted interpretations of duty. Yet, the change in the target group was visible: to the point that on the final day as farewells were being enacted, one head constable stood up with a formal declaration that from now onwards he would not only change his attitude towards female victims, he would also change his attitude towards his wife, the session on genetic coding had done the trick.

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