This Women's Day we're honouring the strong women who are making our communities safer for everyone, especially women, to live and thrive in. One such icon is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s first woman District Police Officer (DPO), Sonia Shamroz, who recently joined the Chitral police.
Growing up, her family made sure nothing was unachievable for Shamroz and her four sisters. Years later, that encouragement propelled Shamroz on her path to become the first woman DPO in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Women make up less than two percent of the overall police force in Pakistan with the percentage even lower in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. While this speaks volumes about Shamroz's determination, it also gives us an idea of the challenges she must have faced on her journey to the top.
Always fond of pursuing the road less travelled, Shamroz grew up in a family that had no members working for the government. Early on, she had the opportunity to study at Army Burn Hall College. “The discipline and the uniform then inspired me and became one of the reasons I appeared for the CSS exam,” she told Images.
Appearing for the exam and acing it was the easy part; it was the journey that came afterwards that was challenging. Shamroz was the first woman with a child and train to be a police officer but thanks to a supportive husband and in-laws, who took care of her daughter during her training, she was able to complete her training. Her first assignment was as an assistant superintendent of police in Mansehra, which was a huge learning opportunity for her.
“Initially people would be confused and sceptical to see a woman in the police but my efforts and work gave them confidence in me. In Mansehra, I visited crime scenes and we caught criminals, which really changed the way the public perceived women police officials.”
Shamroz has also served in Oghi and Abbottabad as well as being the principal of the Police Training School in Mansehra. She was then chosen as a Chevening Scholar to study Violence against Women and Conflict at York University in the United Kingdom.
She is one of several women police officers to take part in a training session on disaster response arranged by the United Nations Development Programme Pakistan Amn-o-Insaf Programme, which is actively working to increase women’s representation in law enforcement through advocacy, training and creating conducive and enabling environments for women officers to thrive.
Without her family’s support and these value adding experiences and training, Shamroz would not have come this far. She recently joined the Chitral Police as a DPO but what’s more remarkable is what she has been accomplishing ever since she took office.
According to her, Chitral has two major issues: the first is a high suicide rate with a majority of the victims being women. She feels that the women there feel suppressed, lack opportunities and have no one to complain to. A lot of young girls commit suicide especially when they are forced to marry someone they don’t want to or are facing domestic violence. Instead of seeking a solution, they end their lives. The second issue is the prevalence of ‘down district marriages’, in which men from lower districts and other provinces come to North Chitral and marry younger girls, often by paying off their parents.
To overcome these problems, Shamroz has operationalised three gender responsive desks (GRDs) at model police stations established by the UNDP’s Amn-o-Insaf Programme with support from European Union in Lower Chitral. She appointed women officials at these desks to encourage women to come and discuss their problems instead of committing suicide.
Shamroz also trained her staff on gender responsive policing to change the environment of police stations and encourage women to freely visit to report violations. Since operationalising these desks in January, over 100 cases have been successfully solved.
A social worker working in Lower Chitral, who chooses to remain anonymous, told Images that she was getting a lot of harassment calls from different numbers and couldn’t figure out what to do. “Finally I decided to get in touch with the newly set up women desk at the Chitral Police Station and DPO Sonia and officer Dilshad Pari investigated the matter. In a short time, they found the culprit and punished him.”
This is one of the many cases that have been solved at the Gender Responsive Desks in Lower Chitral but more importantly, these cases are strengthening women’s belief that they will get justice if they speak up.
“It has only been two months of making these efforts and there has only been one case of suicide. My team has successfully saved a few cases from the site when some women were trying to jump in the river, counselled them and resolved the issue,” Shamroz told Images.
She believes that increasing women’s representation in law enforcement is crucial. Women make up almost half of Pakistan's population and in order to facilitate women complainants, more women must be included in the police force. “Currently, we don’t have enough women in the force to cater to women complainants and hear them out, let alone work towards solving their cases and challenges,” explained Shamroz.
She added that one of the most effective ways to increase women representation in law enforcement is to give them senior leadership roles, so young girls can look up to them, be inspired and follow the same route. “When I joined the force, I didn’t have many examples to look up to, but I hope the few of us who have got on this path can change that for the next generation.”