“Reporting gender-based violence is the first step to ending it” | Political economics



Sunday news (TNS): You won the Integrity Icon award this year. Danish Ambassador Lis Rosenholm presented you with the award. Tell us about it.

Amna Baig (Alta.): It is a prestigious award. Accountability Lab is organizing the distribution of this award. The laboratory asked Ambassador Rosenholm to present this award. Recipients are selected through a competitive process. The purpose of this award is to promote integrity among public officials for the sake of good governance. Ambassador Rosenholm herself is a civil servant. She recognized my contribution to making public spaces safe for all genders.

TNS: Currently the ambassadors of Denmark, Canada and the EU in Pakistan are women. They also defend the rights of women in Pakistan. Has the Danish Ambassador made a commitment by giving you this award, as is customary?

A B: They are interested in the empowerment of women. We talked about it. But now a change of command has taken place in the Islamabad police. A new mechanism will evolve according to the vision of the new Inspector General of Police of Islamabad, Ahsan Younas. He is the best officer to lead the Islamabad police with due regard to gender. I hope something meaningful will happen. The presentation of the award has symbolic value which can have a considerable impact on law enforcement.

TNS: You also oversee the Islamabad Police Gender Protection Unit. The idea has attracted international attention. Are there international links to make this facility more productive?

A B: Several international ambassadors and dignitaries visited this facility. We take note of their suggestions and proposals. But this is an entirely indigenous system. There was no donation of any kind from abroad. The good thing is that we set it up using our own resources. This is why this project is sustainable. We do not need or ask for donations for this installation. One problem with overseas-funded projects is that once the funds dry up, they are not sustainable.

TNS: You recently gave a lecture as part of the UN Women program at the Department of Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University. How do you see this commitment?

A B: I think it’s very encouraging. There had been no debate on gender-based violence in colleges and universities. Having such debates in itself is a great achievement. For too long it has been taboo to talk about harassment. But now people have started talking about it, and a discussion has been generated in the company. Gender violence is as much a pandemic as the Covid-19. While the debate on discrimination gains momentum, it still needs to be clarified.

TNS: What is the first step to stop gender-based violence?

A B: Reporting gender-based violence is the first step to ending it. Violence often goes unreported. If a partner is killed, she must have been abused for some time. Due to family and social pressures, such violations go unreported and no one confronts the abuser. As a result, the abuse escalates and the abuser gains enough self-confidence to kill the victim. It is only then that the violence is reported to the police.

This is why I think that the discourse around gender violence must evolve. Debate should be encouraged. People should know that the law is there to prevent abuse and violence. Our goal is to create awareness so that lives can be saved.

TNS: There are few departments of criminology in our universities. Don’t you think these are essential to systematically address gender crimes?

Gender violence is as much a pandemic as the Covid-19. While the debate on discrimination gains momentum, it still needs to be clarified.

A B: I think criminology departments should be created, but the number of gender studies departments should also increase. They cover gender issues more broadly. The gender studies departments of QAU, AIOU and LUMS are functioning well. Gender studies programs should be introduced in all universities. Those who study engineering or economics should also study the genre. Criminology is a modern subject, but gender studies are the key to understanding gender issues.

TNS: At the end of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, the U.S. Embassy has nominated you for the International Women of Courage Award. What does this appointment mean for women in Pakistan?

A B: It is important to understand that we are a country of over 100 million women. It is a huge number. Although their source is the same, the nature of the problems that women face in different countries differs. My appointment is recognition of women’s rights, which is good.

TNS: According to recent reports, the police service is one of the most corrupt institutions in Pakistan. Have you encountered any problems at work?

A B: When we wear the uniform, our profession comes before our gender. I have never been bullied by my subordinates or superiors. Women must be informed that they are not discriminated against in the police service. Many women outperform men and are treated accordingly. Before joining the police, I had a different perception of the institution. But in my five years of service, that perception has changed. I know the police make a lot of sacrifices to protect citizens.

We try to facilitate access to justice for women and transgender people. It is difficult for them to prosecute their cases in the criminal justice system. I would say that the Gender Protection Unit intends to help women and transgender people. Women police officers process their cases from their first call to the last report. We received 550 complaints of gender-based violence or harassment in just three months. I see it as a success.

TNS: How to make this center more efficient?

A B: Public awareness is the key to our success. The more women know, the more they will come to us at the time of need. If this gender protection unit had not been in place, I don’t think these 550 women would have filed a complaint. At best, 50 or 60 of the harassment cases would still have been reported. The police are a public service. The public should cooperate with the police to raise awareness of gender-based violence. The Ministry of Human Rights and its subordinate institutions strive to educate women about their rights and to protect them.

TNS: You are very active on social networks. Do you think it helps to reach women who need police help?

A B: In Islamabad, social networks work better than in other parts of the country. People feel relieved when they are told that their complaints have been noted and that action has been taken.

The investigator teaches development support communication at the International Islamic University. He can be reached on Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ or [email protected]

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