August 07, 2022
By Asra Haque
Lawyers, journalists, police officials and activists attended a roundtable conference on investigation and prosecution of gender-based crimes at the Ivy College of Management Sciences in Lahore.
The conference was organized by the Youth General Assembly (YGA), a youth-led initiative focused on development of political skills and public awareness among students. The discussion on Thursday was aimed at identifying existing lacunae in and failure in implementation of laws against gender-based crimes in Pakistan.
Supreme Court advocate Barrister Salman Safdar, who has extensive experience with criminal cases, stated that justice is usually dispensed to women victims or survivors of gender-based crimes during the initial trial. However, it is during the appeal stage that justice is inevitably denied to women.
“Convictions remain intact in the lower courts, but the day appeals are filed in the high courts and the Supreme Court, the defects, shortcomings and flaws of the prosecution are exposed,” he stated. He also lamented how Pakistan’s political leadership is more concerned with playing ‘musical chairs’ rather than show will in improving the rights of and extend protection to victims/survivors of gender-based crimes.
Glaring lacunae in existing laws, procedures and implementation dominated the discussion, with many stakeholders agreeing that the police, prosecution and courts share the burden of allowing these lapses to happen.
Fatima Raza, an investigative journalist focusing on sexual and gender-based violence especially in South Punjab, stated that the conviction rate for such cases in Punjab has never gone beyond a meager 4.2%.
“There was this one case where a newly-wed bride had been gang-raped, and there was very little doubt as to the identity of the offenders. I remember how the SHO proudly stated that the police gunned the suspects down extrajudicially, because they would have all otherwise gotten away scot-free if the case went to trial,” she related.
Ayesha Taslim, Director Program at Depilex Smileagain Foundation (DSF), which provides healthcare support and psychosocial counseling to acid burn survivors, stated that immediate response, continued advocacy and implementation of laws can enhance curative and preventative measures to curb gender-based crimes in Pakistan.
“We can talk to no end about what measures are required, but the question remains: who will bell the cat?” she said. “Nonetheless, we should keep the conversation alive and push our institutions to take action against such crimes.”
Ghazal Khan, former Vice-President of the YGA, stated that in addition to women, it is important to look at transgender victims and survivors of gender-based violence.
“We seen an immense amount of violence against transgender people across Pakistan, and most of the times these incidents go unreported,” she said. “We often forget to talk about them because we have taken their existence for granted. However, the violence that is perpetrated against women is also translated to the trans community, which faces a lot of socio-economic pressures.”
Child rights activist and development practitioner, Valerie Khan, said that it is important to also take men and boys in stride in order to put an end to intergenerational violence against women and girls.
“We need to understand how an overall violent narrative which is being promoted, integrated and institutionalized the moment children are born – sometimes before they are even born – is feeding abusive behaviors that are being generationally repeated,” she posited. “By also taking men and boys along, we are contributing to ending violence against women and girls.”
President of the YGA, Fahad Shahbaz, presented a charter demands, which called for:
- An increase of at least 30% in the ratio of women personnel in the police across all ranks, from the current 1.5%;
- Establishing a holistic gender policy, which covers provisions for recruitment, retention and welfare of female officers, in the police;
- Inculcating an enabling environment for female officers, such as daycare centers and separate toilets as basic facilities, in police lines and stations;
- Mandatory and regular gender sensitivity training to all recruits of the police department;
- Quarterly data on the performance of the police department’s gender-based violence desks and women police stations, which should be made available to the public;
- Transparent and impartial accountability procedures against officers guilty of gender-insensitive and non-responsive behavior;
- Use of modern, digital and gender-sensitive investigation techniques in evidence collection and investigation of gender-based crimes;
- Inducting women prosecutors for gender-based crimes by the prosecution department;
- Robust and dedicated efforts by the prosecution department in order to improve conviction rates in gender-based crimes.