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Our Women Police on the Alert in Pakistan

Posted on 08 July 2014 by

This article was originally posted on Pakistan Horizon, the blog of The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs.

Police Woman, Sindh, Pakistan

Police Woman, Sindh, Pakistan

They looked quite impressive in their dark grey uniforms, those women policy officers, whose appointment and career Aurat Foundation celebrated in an event on 3 July 2014. They included the first woman district police officer in Pakistan, Naseem Ara Panhwer, who is credited with countering dacoits (bandits) on her beat, and finding her way well into criminal gangs; Shehla Qureshi, assistant superintendent of police in the Frere area of Karachi, resplendent in her slightly different unifrom as she came into the police force through the government’s competitive examination; Azra Memon, assistant deputy inspector general of traffic in Karachi; Masuma Changezi, who is superintendent of police traffice also in Karachi; and Hajra Sabiha, who is the station house officer (SHO) of the Artillery Maidan women’s police station in the heart of Karachi.

Although some of the officers mentioned above are senior, the most significant appointments are those of two station house officers in charge of all-male police stations in Karachi, Ghazala Siddiqui who holds charge of the Clifton police station and Inspector Zaibun Nisa, chief of Bahadurabad police station. The station house officer is the lynchpin of the policing system and the original power lies with her or him because the police station is the very place where the community interacts with the police. In Urdu and local languages, the police station is called a “thana”, a word which evokes fear and apprehension.

Deputy Inspector General Abdul Khalique Shaikh spoke to us about the journey of the Sindh police in deciding to give these crucial responsibilities to women police officers. He said that, in terms of sheer numbers, the percentage of women in our police force is negligible. There are 450,000 plus men in the police force in Pakistan, and only 4000 or so women police, that is, roughly less then one per cent. The Sindh police were keen that not only should the number of women in the force be increased, but that they should be entrusted with significant and effective roles, and not marginal roles. As a general rule, they are posted mostly in women’s police stations and are used as escorts for women prisoners, when women are arrested or when raids are conducted, especially in houses where families are present. The police bosses felt that from their marginalised position the women police should be brought into the mainstream into roles where they could address the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898. But would their colleagues in the police force and members of the community accept their authority?

Many barriers had to be crossed. It was necessary that in decision-making circles there should exist no prejudice against women occupying positions traditionally held by men, especially in a hardened force like the police, and that there should be faith in their ability to perform as well, if not better, than men. Abdul Khalique Shaikh and his superiors had this faith, and felt that it was time to take the next big step. Initially, they thought it would be prudent to create safe beats where women could be groomed as station house officers for a few months and then moved to actual police stations. But they gave up this idea and decided to go ahead without taking preliminary precautions. Abdul Khalique Shaikh looks forward to the day when he can recruit women in large numbers not only as officers but also as ordinary constables.

Still, some encouragement and persuasion was needed. Ghazala Siddiqui, the first woman station house officer, told us how she had to be reassured that her superiors would stand by her if she made mistakes but Inspector Zaibun Nisa, who holds charge of Bahadurabad police station within whose remit my own house is located, apparently offered to become a station house officer herself. On taking charge of her office, she put an end to routine corruption, sidelined the “beaters” (beaters are persons who collect money from the community) of her station and put four of them in jail, closed down “shisha” dens and proscribed “gutka”, an addiction which is the curse of many people. Unlike the prevailing culture of the thana, she stopped all food coming in from neighbourhood restaurants and snack bars. As one of her constables told me recently, “Madam is very strict”. It is significant that all the women officers said that they continue to receive support from their superiors and none of them complained of criticism from the members of the community on account of their being women.

As we listened to how these women confronted crime, which now includes bomb blasts and other terrorist activities, and managed traffic on the vehicle-laden roads and streets of Karachi, a city of 20 million people, our focus shifted to the person who represented decision-making in the Sindh police, Abdul Khalique Shaikh, and he became the eventual hero of our event. We were overjoyed when he told us that a woman police officer would soon be appointed as “muharir” ( the one who records complaints) in a thana in Karachi. The entire team of Aurat Foundation joined hands to give him, with applause and cheers, the last shield of the day.

In my final remarks, I focused on the work and career of these women police officers in the backdrop of the women’s movement in Pakistan. Their numbers may be negligible in the total police force in Pakistan, but for the women’s movement their appointment has been a giant step forward. That the police administration made these decisions was the result of many factors ― urbanisation, social change and social motility, education and the effect of the affirmative action with respect to women’s rights taken by successive governments. Sindh, with its more open and urbanised culture, has been the leader in legislation favouring women’s rights but we must not forget that the decision makers in this case have all been men.

Aurat Foundation, which has struggled for women’s empowerment since 1986, has always worked along with men in all its programmes. Unlike some other associations operating in the field of women’s rights, it has never followed a policy of confrontation with men as a genre. We were fortunate that we had the support of enlightened and educated men in all our endeavours. The earlier presidents of our Board of Governors ― before me ― were all men. Some of our leading executives are men and our citizens’ action committees in various districts comprise both women and men. The collaboration of our men colleagues has opened for us many doors in remote and conservative areas where access was difficult and tradition prevailed.

Therefore, it was a pleasure for me to thank DIG Abdul Khalique Shaikh and the male heirarchy in the Sindh police for taking the bold decision to empower women police officers. I thanked the Sindh government and could not resist acknowledging Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, for had he represented patriarchy in its traditional sense, these decisions could not have been made. How could it have been otherwise, though, for the Pakistan Peoples Party carries the legacy of Benazir Bhutto, in whose tenure the first women’s police stations were established in Pakistan?

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Strong Women of Egypt

Posted on 23 February 2014 by

Fifty five of those who drafted the new Egyptian constitution were women.

This was the climax of Egyptian women’s prominent participation in the two waves of Egypt’s revolution, January 25, 2011 and June 30, 2013. During the first wave, ex-president Hosni Mubarak was toppled, along with his police state. During the second wave, ex- president Mohamed Morsi was also toppled, along with his religious state. Egyptian women were fighters during both waves; they were shot, injured, and arrested.

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What do women want in the post-Arab spring era?

Posted on 26 April 2013 by

Two years after the start of the Arab Spring, women and girls in the Arab region seem to be the big losers of a process that promised much in terms of democracy and justice but has thus far delivered too little.

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Happy News for Women’s Rights in Morocco: Kesbat Mehdia Women Become First-time Landowners!

Posted on 26 March 2013 by

Women of the Kesbat Mehdia Tribe in Kenitra, Morocco celebrate receiving land compensation for the first time.

Women of the Kesbat Mehdia Tribe in Kenitra, Morocco celebrate receiving land compensation for the first time.

Since 2007, Soulaliyate women have been fighting for their rights and campaigning hard against the exclusion and discrimination they face living on their tribes’ collective lands. For years, they engaged officials and supervisory authorities at the local, national, and international levels in dialogue; held interviews with national and international media; organized key protests and sit-ins; prepared slogans; and mobilized other women’s groups in a movement of collective empowerment, experience sharing, learning, and solidarity to bring about change.

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After years of struggle, a timely victory for women in Pakistan

Posted on 12 March 2013 by

Author at Aurat Foundation's Women's Day March, Karachi

Author at Aurat’s Women’s Day March, Karachi

It was a great day for Aurat Foundation. Not only because 8 March was International Women’s Day but also because the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed long-awaited legislation against domestic violence. In its dying days, the Assembly adopted the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2013. This much needed legislation, defines domestic violence as:

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Changing Attitudes on Personal Status Codes in MENA

Posted on 28 January 2013 by

by Olivia Alabaster for WLP Lebanon/CRTD.A

Two speakers from Lebanon each discussed how a unified, civil Personal Status Code would not only help protect the rights of women but that it would also combat sectarianism.

Manar Zeaitar spoke about the issue of civil marriage; recently in the news given the President’s vocal support for it after a couple announced they had held the country’s first civil marriage ceremony, in line with a 1936 decree.

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Learning Democracy: A Conversation with Egypt’s Amel Abdel Hadi

Posted on 28 January 2013 by

by Olivia Alabaster for CRTD.A WLP Lebanon

On the sidelines of the conference, Amel Abdel Hadi, one of the founders of the New Woman Foundation in Egypt, spoke about her work with the coalition and the situation in her own country.

While the women’s movement has been gaining more and more support over the years, the Arab revolts have given a new dimension to the cause, Abdel Hadi said,

This revolutionary era has also strengthened the Equality Without Reservation coalition, she added.

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Challenges in Reforming the Personal Status Code: Perspectives from MENA

Posted on 28 January 2013 by

By Olivia Alabaster for CRTD.A

On the second day of the conference, participants discussed the Personal Status laws, from the achievements gained so far, to the key challenges which lie ahead and how best to move forward.

3651463162_7c882e7ea3_oAsha al-Karib provided an insightful history of the Sudanese women’s movement, and explained how many of the freedoms and advances that women gained by the 1960s – equal pay, the first woman in parliament, the right to become a judge in the Supreme Court – began to disappear with the arrival of civil war in the early 1980s.

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Women must continue to fight for equal rights, conference urges

Posted on 25 January 2013 by

By Olivia Alabaster for WLP Lebanon/CRTD-A

In the first session of the Equality Without Reservation conference Thursday, an emphasis was placed on the need to continuously work for women’s rights, even once conventions have been signed.sans-titre

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Activists warn that Arab women being ignored in post-revolutionary period at opening of EWR conference

Posted on 25 January 2013 by

By Olivia Alabaster for WLP Lebanon/CRTD-A

While the overwhelming majority of states in the MENA region have ratified CEDAW, (only Sudan, Somalia and Palestine are not states party to the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women) many have done so with reservations or without genuine implementation on the ground.

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Leadership and Political Participation Classes Motivate and Inspire Lebanese Women to Claim Equal Citizenship

Posted on 11 January 2013 by

Lebanon Graduation

Women graduate from leadership courses in Lebanon take on front roles in stepping up the Claiming Equal Citizenship Campaign in 2013

Lina Abou-Habib

CRTD.A / WLP-Lebanon

6 January 2012

During the past year, CRTD.A engaged in a series of Leadership and Political Participation training targeting Lebanese women married to non-nationals and who suffer from the discriminatory nationality laws in Lebanon which do not allow Lebanese women to transmit their nationality to their families.  The training series which was based on the Women learning Partnership curriculum and methodology aimed at supporting women to play a leading and public role in the Campaign and thus empower them to mobilise their own communities and constituencies.

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Another breakthrough for the Claiming Equal Citizenship Campaign: CRTD.A/WLP-Lebanon called by Ministerial Committee to present case for reform

Posted on 04 December 2012 by

Earlier this year, CRTD.A (WLP-Lebanon) was engaged in some serious lobbying which led to the inclusion of the reform of the nationality law on the official agenda of the Cabinet meeting of March 21st 2012.  This was the first time the matter was officially discussed with the Prime Minister that he gave indication that he is personally in favour of the reform of the law so that women have equal rights to transmit citizenship as men.  During that same period, CRTD.A was also in discussions with the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) on the process of reforming the law as well as the development of a counter proposal for a new law.  Both processes yielded results.  The NCLW concluded a process of consultations which culminated in the drafting of a law petition.  The Prime Minister for his part set up a Ministerial Committee formed of seven Ministers in order to review the nationality law and submit scenarios for reforms.

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