Right solutions (on Gender issue) -DAWN

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VIOLENCE is not the answer. We know that well. Yet, it exists in its gravest forms, and women are bearing the brunt. It is question we should ask ourselves repeatedly until we find a solution.

Violence against women and girls is one of the world’s most prevalent human rights violations. We have yet to find a place on earth that is immune to this crime. The data available on violence against women has increased over the past few decades, painting a very dismal picture. “Globally, almost one in three women have been subjected to intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once” in their lifetime and 137 women are killed by a member of their family every day. Women account for 49 per cent of all human trafficking victims. One in five women (in 2019) aged 20-24 years was married before 18. Five million adolescent girls worldwide aged 15-19 years have experienced forced sex. The list continues.

As per a World Bank report (2020), 155 countries have legislated on ending domestic violence and 140 on preventing sexual harassment at the workplace. However, due to lack of implementation and gaps the desired results haven’t been achieved. Pakistan has enacted laws in both these areas, but unfortunately, it is not an exception to the status quo. Enacting pro-women laws is a great start but certainly not the end. Data from Pakistan shows that 28pc of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence since age 15, and 6pc have experienced sexual violence, while 34pc of ever-married women have experienced spousal physical, sexual or emotional violence.

A safety audit conducted by UN Women in five selected districts indicates that in Karachi 75pc, Dadu 80pc, Khairpur 89pc, Rawalpindi 80pc, and Quetta 80pc of women felt unsafe in public places. The pandemic is a wake-up call. It has unearthed a reality that is not adequately addressed. Violence against women and girls spiked at the onset of the pandemic revealing a shadow pandemic that had been there all along. So what is our solution? We know it must be multipronged. Efforts must be continuous, concerted and consistent.

Gender-sensitive policing will encourage women to come forward.

A recent effort of the Islamabad Police, the Gender Protection Unit located in F6 Markaz, has responded to 550 cases in the past three months. That is about six complaints a day with a large proportion of cases pertaining to domestic violence by a partner or family member. While admitting that there is always room for improvement, GPU is an initiative that brings tried and tested models of gender-responsive policing to convergence.

Complaints can be made over the phone or walk-in. As per GPU statistics, walk-ins outnumbered phone inquiries, something we did not expect considering that many anecdotes indicate that women did not prefer to come to the police station. What changed? Women police officials taking the lead in operating GPU and being included in the response teams seems to be addressing the gaps. It has undoubtedly helped women seek services and feel comfortable and confident while their complaints are being handled or recorded. The desks operate around the clock — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Women police officials work in three shifts to ensure that the services are available to anyone. GPU can register cases, issue FIRs and make arrests.

GPU functions as a referral point and comprises four complaint receiving desks, two dedicated to calls, one to receiving walk-in complaints, and the fourth counter is for client feedback and data management. Receiving feedback from clients is not just an attempt to refine services. It’s a step towards improving accountability. GPU is also equipped with a creche. A must-have to ensure more working wo­­m­en, in this case, women police officers can balance their careers and family obligations. We were pleased to learn that the creche was also available to women accessing the service. That said, we must underscore these parenting duties should not just be the job of the mother.

Addressing violence needs more than just an efficacious remedy. Emphasis needs to be placed on prevention. Islamabad Police plans to conduct multiple demographic analyses of the types of crimes being committed, the general profile of perpetrators, and the identification of crime hotspots in the city. When scaled up, the data analysis will help them respond in a predictive and preventive manner rather than acting as a reactive force. Such an approach is expected to guide in selecting locations to set up satellite units.

In three months, there are observable results. We certainly hope GPU will be a trendsetter and drive positive change in preventing, curbing and ultimately eradicating violence against women in Pakistan.We must end violence against women and girls now!

Sharmeela Rassool is country representative of UN Women Pakistan. Bernhard Schlagheck is German ambassador to Pakistan.