Oct 22, 2013

    Pakistan women police fight scorn too

    WHEN Ms Shazadi Gillani, the highest-ranking female police officer in Pakistan's most conservative province, wanted to join the force, she had to defy her father, forgo marriage, and pay for her own basic training.

    In the next 19 years, Inspector Gillani and her faithful sidekick, Ms Rizwana Zafar - brought up as a boy after becoming her frustrated father's ninth daughter - have battled bandits, earthquakes and militants.

    The Taliban are so pervasive in Ms Gillani's northern Khyber Pakhunkhwa province that she wears a burqa when she travels. Ms Zafar dons a fake moustache to escort her.

    But the women's biggest challenge is helping new female police recruits. Women make up just 560 of the province's 60,000-strong force.

    Police chiefs hope to double that within a year, but tough working conditions make recruitment hard.

    "We are fighting a war in the workplace," said Ms Zafar, whose uniform sports a karate patch. "We are supporting our juniors. There was no one to support us."

    As a schoolgirl, Ms Gillani wanted to join the army, like her father. They were not recruiting, so she proposed to join the police instead. Her father and seven brothers were horrified.

    "They said the police disrespected women," she said. "I had a lot of opposition."

    After a week of refusing to eat - and lobbying by her college-lecturer mother - Ms Gillani's father gave in.

    Many Pakistani women face horrifying violence, and officials hope that more abused women will report attacks. Tradition forbids them from speaking to male officers.

    The province opened two women-only police stations in 1994. But they have long been starved of resources and responsibility.

    The last crime reported at the Abbottabad women-only station was in 2005. Station head Samina Zafar sits at a bare desk in an empty room lit by a single naked bulb.

    "We are not given good facilities," she said. "I want this place to be like a man's police station."

    Ms Gillani, supervising the fingerprinting of a tearful accused kidnapper, said: "If people see women police doing their jobs well, they will change their minds."

    While she must wear a burqa to head home, she refuses to do so in the station.

    "If we are doing the job of a man, why should we not show our faces?" she asked.

    "Change is a challenge for all of society, not just the police."