Gender friendly policy
The police have a vital role to play in maintaining internal law and order system and establishing the rule of law in the country. For controlling the law and order situation, tackling the ever-increasing sophisticated crimes, and punishing heinous crimes like murder, rape, mugging, hijacking, abduction, smuggling, acid-throwing, and violence on women and children, the need for the police force is indeed very important. However, despite having impressive achievements in various sectors, Bangladesh suffers from weak governance and a lack of government capacity to deliver basic services. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2008 acknowledges that the vulnerable, particularly women and children struggle to get justice from the police and the formal and informal justice system as well. Yet, society as a whole has a negative conception about the police. In case of Indian Sub-Continent, this unfavourable impression dates back to 1813 with the birth of the police force in British India. The police system that was established during this period was governed more by the considerations of maintaining control and dictatorial rule rather than providing sensitive and people-friendly policing to people.
Recently few important and appraisable steps are taken by the government of Bangladesh and by the joint collaboration of government and Non-government intervention for increasing responsiveness of police force to maintaining violence against women in Bangladesh. Refurbishment of Model Thana, introducing community policing and victim support centre, set up one stop crisis centre and recent progress in policy reform are good examples. But these initiatives do not work properly because of our institutional problems. For example: the idea of Model Thana introduced by Bangladesh Police is an excellent attempt but in practice, though the infrastructural facilities of Model Thanas are increased, in most of the cases these are not women friendly and are not maintained properly for lack of manpower and budget shortage. Further, it is an additional task for the existing service delivery officers to provide these new services because no person is recruited against the new task. As a result, the standards of service delivery in Model Thanas are not increasing proportionately.
The investigation department of the police has lack of efficiency, adequate machinery and educated human resources. The Investigation Officer (IO) is engaged to investigate a case along with other responsibilities of maintaining law and order system and giving protocol to the VIP personnel, as such, they can not perform their investigation task properly. The ''Ten years experience of Monitoring State Intervention to Combat Violence against Women'', October 1998-November 2008' report of Naripokkho reveals that in Model Thanas the Women Investigation Cells existing only by name but have no functions in the true sense. The report further explores that the Investigation Officer are not enough gender sensitive. In the service, 80% of policewomen themselves do not think that Bangladesh police is women-friendly while some believe that it depends on the status of women who come to police stations. It may well be stated that some do practice women-friendly policing, but this should be institutionalized rather than left to individual discretion.
Gender bias among police personnel is reflected in their services to women when women come in contact with the police as complainants, counter complainants, respondents, suspects/accused, informers, or visitors and their rights as such need to be safeguarded. Although the Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act, 2010 has come into force from December 30, 2010 but due to lack of gender responsive training and insufficient knowledge about their responsibilities prescribed by the law, police personnel still do not know how to work with such victims. Partly, due to societal attitudes about domestic violence and partly related to budget constraints, police officers often treat domestic violence cases as "unimportant," and not worthy of police attention, and think that they would be best resolved within the family. Police inefficiency and apathy also contribute to women's inability to prosecute their cases on their own. Women who bring their complaints against their family or relatives are often discouraged by the police from filling in a First Information Report (FIR) or even a General Diary (GD) and in this case, police may refuse to cooperate when asked to give testimony in court.
Till now violence against women in Bangladesh is on the increase and there is a wide gap between the number of actual incidents and the number of reported incidents to the police. In spite of this the reported incidences of violence against women pose to threaten the existing arrangement or initiatives by the state itself. Bangladesh has a number of laws conducive to the rights of women but the state is not completely able to uphold women's rights prescribed by these laws. Female offenders still suffer from mistreatment and abuse of authority by the police. Where the perpetrator of violence is an agent of a law enforcement agency, the police generally do not take necessary care to prepare the charge sheet, tend to treat the agent favourably, or try to appease the complainant by filing a GD instead of a FIR. In case of rape victims, the police and other law enforcement agencies take it for granted that women who are raped are either of bad character or prostitute. My question is, Is it ever lawful to rape any woman, even if she is a prostitute or a woman of the most ill reputation or the worst character? It may sound unbelievable. But this is the harsh reality that they look down upon the oppressed women and show no interest to take their cases unless compelled and pressurized from higher authority. Consequently, women do not want to go to the thana in fear of police harassment. As a whole, a woman when oppressed receives further oppression, repression and violation from the law enforcing agencies that are there to protect her.
The increased awareness of women's rights has brought forward the need for women-friendly policing to protect women against indecent police behaviour. Crime is increasing; the criminal justice system is getting cracked under heavy workload; society's expectations from the police are high but the police's status and resources are poor. A colonial mind set continues to prevail, often resulting in maltreatment of women and children. Routine inspection and supervision have decayed. Prisons are overcrowded, prisoners under trial are not treated separately from convicts, and women face great insecurity even in “safe custody,” and a large number of children are in prison.
These situations need to be changed for upholding the right to get access to justice. By taking all of these challenges, police itself should be more gender responsive and more service oriented towards women who come to them for seeking help and assistance. An accountable, transparent, and efficient police service is very urgent which could ensure the safety and well being of the citizens and upgrading the law and order situation of the country. Police should be much more gender sensitive at the time of service delivering. Bangladesh Government also requires considering the fact to continue support to strengthen police.
Advocate Mitali Jahan, Program Manager, Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association.