SAIDU SHARIF, Pakistan, Aug. 28 --
The new government of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province has established four police desks staffed by female police officers to take reports from women complaining of abuse or violence.
The first Women Police Reporting Centers set up by the coalition led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party are in the conservative Swat and Swabi districts.
In addition, two small legal centers have been set up in area hospitals to ensure immediate action is taken when family or sexual abuse is reported.
Women's advocates say sexual violence can be prevalent in this area of Pakistan, but justice less so.
In one typical case, a 12-year-old girl was nearly raped, but because she was reluctant to report the details to a male police officer, her case wasn’t prosecuted.
Shah Farman, spokesman for the ruling PTI government, told UPI Next that law and order is a major challenge for the new government, and said police reform would be helpful in that area. He noted the new system allows women to report crimes online and by telephone.
With the reporting centers, the government encourages women "to speak out against violence," he added.
The police also think the new desks with encourage women to seek justice.
Khatoon Bibi, a seasoned female officer posted to the center in Swat's Saidu Group Hospital, told UPI Next that a reporting process is in place.
"After the consultation with a female doctor, we will examine the physical injuries of the victims, if any, to proceed to a legal process without any delay," she said.
In 2009, she took a one-month police training course on self-defense, surveillance and procedure. Later, she joined the Special Police Force. She had been helping the male police force with raids and search operations in the Swat Valley, but has been in the center since June.
Women were reluctant to go to police stations and file complaints in front of male police officers, said Rashid Iqbal, a police officer in Swat's capital, Saidu Sharif.
"But," he told UPI Next, "because of the center [women] will dare to speak against the violence and protect their rights."
Male constables, he said, are not allowed inside the reporting centers without prior permission, "as we want to give friendly space to the victims [where] they could express their suffering without any stress." He said most cases are related to domestic violence.
Not everyone is convinced the new reporting desks will encourage women to come forward.
"How can they [the women police officers] help the victims when [they] themselves are working under the security of the policemen?" asked Sitara Ayaz, a former provincial minister for social welfare and women's development.
"It would be an exercise in futility if this force were asked to work without first undergoing proper training that would allow them autonomy.”
Iqbal acknowledged that the female constables do not have enough reporting experience, but said sample reports and key questions are provided to make the job easier.
There are other hurdles. For example, women say it is still taboo for them to work in the police department.
Akhtar Begum, a female constable, told UPI Next she became a police officer to help her family, after the 2007-2009 Taliban incursion, when the region lived under a harsh interpretation of Sharia law. She joined the regular police force after nine months' instruction at a police training center. Begum said she is always on call because the police departments do not have enough female officers.
Saima Anwar, the region's first female lawyer, said only women can understand other women's situations.
"If the lady victims report their case to a female constable, they will be able to share all the information without any shyness. This is important for the legal procedure, if we want to have justice," she said.