Pakistan's women police fight criminals, militants and scorn

Sun Oct 20, 2013 7:47pm EDT
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By Katharine Houreld

ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - When 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, forego marriage and pay for her own basic training.

During the next 19 years, Inspector Gillani and her faithful sidekick 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 Gillani's northern Khyber Pakhunkhwa province that she wears a burqa, a head-to-toe robe with a small mesh window for the eyes, when she travels. 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.

There have been small victories.

Germany funded female dormitories at three training colleges. Women recruits no longer wait years for basic training. This summer, the province opened women's complaint desks in 60 male-run police stations.

Many Pakistani women face horrifying violence and officials hope 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.   Continued...

Pakistani Police Inspector Shazadi Gillani (C) talks to a member of her team at a police station in Abbottabad September 18, 2013. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra