Case study

Changing times: women police officers breaking barriers in Pakistan

UK support to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is helping the province to improve women’s access to justice and become more responsive to women’s issues.

Violence against women is widespread in Pakistan - 9 out of 10 women have experienced domestic violence, but only 4% of complaints received by the police are from women.
Violence against women is widespread in Pakistan - 9 out of 10 women have experienced domestic violence, but only 4% of complaints received by the police are from women. Picture: Jenny Matthews/Panos

Thirty-year-old Sumera Jabeen isn’t your average Pakistani young woman. She works as the officer in charge of the new women’s complaint unit at a police station in Faqirabad – 1 of 3 in Peshawar. These model police stations are funded by the UK in partnership with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to improve women’s access to justice in the province and assist the police in becoming more responsive to women’s issues.

A bold career path

Sumera has been a part of the Peshawar women’s police force for over 3 years and was deputed to Faqirabad last year. She believes her bold career was made possible thanks to the support and encouragement of her parents and husband.

“My family’s support was crucial in joining the police force and I have also received great guidance and support from my male colleagues, who have assisted me throughout my short career.”

Pakistan is ranked as the third most dangerous place in the world for women, and 1 of the most unequal. Violence against women is widespread - 9 out of 10 women have experienced domestic violence, but only 4% of complaints received by the police are from women.

Sumera’s primary responsibility at the model unit is being the point of contact for female complainants.

“I listen to female complaints, lodge problems and take appropriate action after consultation with my male colleagues.”

“I think this is a commendable initiative. Women are more comfortable sharing their grievances with women instead of men. This will allow many more women – women who are otherwise hesitant – to come forward and demand justice,” Sumera said.

Sumera Jabeen
Sumera Jabeen has been a part of the Peshawar women’s police force for over 3 years. She is the point of contact for female complainants. Picture: Aitebaar

Breaking the mould

But more serious crimes such as kidnappings can also occur, which require input from the female complaint unit.

“Last week we received a complaint regarding a woman who was kidnapped from her home. Our female police officers were closely involved at the initial stages of the search operation as well, as they assisted the investigation staff. The girl was eventually recovered due to our hard work.”

Sumera takes great pride in being 1 of a select number of women in Peshawar’s police force and believes the role offers her a unique opportunity to help other women – and to show that they can succeed in such professions.

“It is an honour for me to be a female police officer in Peshawar. This field has never had too many women, and the female to male ratio is still low. Society, however, has slowly begun to accept our presence. Women are breaking the mould and stepping out of their traditional roles and making their presence felt in society. Nowadays even in a traditionally male-dominated society like Peshawar, women are becoming doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, businesswomen and even joining the police force. Things are beginning to change.”

Facts & stats

  • Violence against women is widespread in Pakistan with domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment, acid attacks, forced marriages, rape and honour killings often being under reported.
  • The UK is working with the government and police in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to create a more accessible security and justice system, so that women have the confidence to report crimes and demand justice. Having women police officers and prosecutors is an essential part of this effort.
  • The UK will help set up similar complaint units in 7 model police stations by 2016.

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Published 14 March 2014