In 2014, a woman SP was appointed in Lahore against a field posting for the first time. In 2017, Lahore got its first female SHO. A year later, a policewoman was declared the best crime fighter in Lahore.
The facts and figures regularly flashed in front of our eyes on mainstream and social medias appear to be extremely promising. Policewomen seem to be getting more and more opportunities and recognition. As a Punjab Police publication puts it, “Their role has become similar to that of any other police officer. They are authorised and capable of handling applications directly, and registration of cases along with the investigation and subsequent disposal of cases.”
What’s more, there is a full-fledged Women Police Station functioning in the city.
However, away from the spotlight, lies a not too cheerful reality that is often deemed too trivial to be discussed even. Currently, six women ASPs, 127 female sub inspectors, and over 2,100 Lady Constables are part of the police force in Lahore. Out of the 180,000 strong Punjab Police force only 3,000 are women. The country still hasn’t managed to meet the bare minimum of female police recruitments. We are bordering below a sad 2 percent.
“Most people in the station have assumed that this is not a job for women. They think so before they even give us an opportunity to work. How then are we supposed to get promoted?” says a female SP from Lahore.
In 2009, the German foreign office, through National Police Bureau & GIZ, funded a gender responsive police project which was completed in 2014. Dr Khola Iram, a consultant at the facility, explains the findings of the project: “The problems can be seen throughout — from recruitment to promotions, and even in their workplace environment.”
The assessment criterion for policewomen seems to be higher than that of men. While most men get promoted to the position of a DPO, women from the same batch do not. In the rare case that a woman does, she makes the headlines. She is seen to represent all the women in the department. Even the slightest mistake made can bring down not just her promotion but the promotions of most women around her.
After promotions are given (in the rare cases that they are), the discrimination does not end. “They will remain an inspector, even if they’re titled a DSP,” says Dr Iram.
The assessment criterion for policewomen seems to be higher than what it is for men. While most men get promoted to DPO, women from the same batch do not. In the rare case that she does, she makes the headlines.
Women are mostly promoted to fill quotas and to attract media attention. The highest-ranking policewoman would be doing the work of an inspector throughout her life. Despite being posted, she is not trusted to handle field work or even the most minor operations. At the highest, a woman would be trusted with investigative work.
“We get the same training, we run the same distance, and we all have to pass to get the posting,” says the SP.
However, women have to pass many other, unofficial tests before they are given the opportunity to prove that they are, in fact, not incompetent policewomen. They have to disprove the preconceived notions that exist about them in the heads of all those they work with. Ironically, they are mostly never given the opportunity to do so. “After 20 years of service, a woman will retire as an inspector while her batch mates are posted at the highest rankings,” reveals the SP.
The Punjab Police publication states, “Although presently women police are not active investigation officers in other Police stations besides the Women Police Station, yet they are always available to lend a hand to the police station staff in day to day activities.” This does not have to be the case. Women are available to do active investigations. They are trained for doing so much more than lending a hand to the police station staff in day-to-day activities. The unavailability of women is an active choice.
“Family pressure stops playing a role once a woman joins the force,” Dr Iram explains. “The family has already allowed her. It is the workplace environment that forces her to quit or [for higher ranks] transfer to another government job.”
Being constantly talked down to and seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, policewoman end up leaving the force. Issues associated with women such as a sexual harassment policy and maternity leave are not taken seriously. While a three-month maternity leave exists, most policemen find it unnecessary and believe that it just proves the incompetency of their female coworkers. “They don’t accept us in the department. They think we are being shown leniency just because we are pregnant,” the SP adds. “The culture at police stations in the city does its best to make the policewomen feel unwelcome and unwanted.
“We have heard stories of constables being harassed on duty. The lower the rank, the higher your vulnerability! We do not feel safe at the job.”
Policewomen are seen only as a compulsion to fill in quotas and maintain public recognition. After being hired they are bound to desk jobs. “It is as if the force doesn’t know what to do with them. It is very simple. Treat them like you treat any other policeman. Give them jobs that correspond to their positions,” states Dr Iram.
Of course, change is a slow, ongoing process. However, policies that ensure equal promotions and opportunities for both the male and female police force would accelerate and smoothen the process.
Lahore, a city of approximately 15 million people, has 84 police stations. Only one of these is a women’s police station. This ratio is a true representation of the role Lahori policewomen get to play in the force. While headlines and publications show us the minute positive side of the story, the other side is far more deserving of our attention. Immediate work needs to be done, to ensure that police women have a safe environment to work in and are presented with the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Policewomen must be treated and promoted in the exact same way as policemen.