We're supporting local partners to improve the police response to gender-based violence in Pakistan – a country that scores among the lowest in the world for gender equality, and where patriarchal attitudes prevent many abused women seeking and accessing justice.
Raza* was a happy 17-year-old studying for university in Rawalpindi, in the Punjab region of Pakistan, when her life changed forever.
"On Eid day, four boys raped me. After coming back at home I cried a lot. I attempted to end my life right then. I felt that there is no one with whom I can share."
Many women who experience violence don't turn to the police for help for fear of being shamed, or pressurised to keep quiet and maintain 'honour'.
“It’s no surprise that women see the police as a last resort”
Bill Carr is an expert in improving the effectiveness of organisations. He is working as a VSO volunteer with local partner Rozan to help strengthen the Pakistan Forum for Democratic Policing (PFDP): a group of organisations working to support and encourage the police in better serving the needs of women here.
“Women in Pakistan live in what is very much a patriarchal society. Gender-based violence is often considered acceptable. It is an immense challenge,” says Bill.
“It’s no surprise that the police are seen by many women as a last resort. A woman turning to the police for support after suffering domestic violence can find herself further abused, or simply held whilst her husband or family are sent for to take her home.
“Police are overworked and under-resourced. They have little relevant training. In any case, they are predominantly male.”
Rozan and the PFDP are trying to change this. They lobbied for recent legislation to protect women including laws on acid attack and early child marriage. Rozan also supports individual cases, such as Raza's.
"What happened with me wasn't my fault"
In the aftermath of her rape, Raza recalled an organisation whose session about sexual abuse she had attended previously: Rozan. She called them for help.
"They supported me to report the crime and endure the medico-legal process, which was quite painful.
Today, four years later, with the grace of Allah and Rozan’s help I am running my business successfully.
"Rozan has a strong relationship with the police, so one of the culprits was arrested despite the fact that I, my family and members of the police and Rozan were receiving threats. He eventually went to jail for one year.
"Throughout the process I was disturbed, felt guilty and wanted to end my life. I started taking counselling sessions from Rozan that helped me get to a normal life. I became capable of studying again because what happened with me wasn’t my fault. Today, four years later, with the grace of Allah and Rozan’s help I am running my business successfully."
An immense challenge
Rozan and the PFDP are doing great work - but they are stretched. This is where Bill, who has previously strengthened organisations in Cameroon, India and Laos as a VSO volunteer, comes in.
“I’m working to help them learn from the experiences of similar networks, and supporting with the establishment of a provincial forum in Sindh that will help more women like Raza become aware of their rights and how to access them.
“The PFDP has already made real progress in supporting police in knowing and playing their part. Hopefully my work here will in a small way add to that progress.”
*Name has been changed on request
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We’ve been working in Pakistan since 1987, building healthy communities and supporting people to develop sustainable and resilient livelihoods.
Working with the police force, NGOs and civil society organisations to combat gender-based violence, and challenge longstanding attitudes towards harmful cultural practices in Pakistan.