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Combatting gender-based violence in Pakistan

VSO Pakistan is collaborating with Rozan - a local NGO - alongside the country's police force to combat gender-based violence and challenge longstanding attitudes towards harmful cultural practices.

Sara’s story: from a violent marriage to independence

A female police speaks to two members of the public in a police station

VSO's work with Rozan and the Pakistan Forum for Democratic Policing has helped introduce specialist female police officers to tackle gender-based violence.

Sara lives in the Shikarpur district of Pakistan’s Sindh province.  Coming from a poor background, she was married into one of her village’s influential families, after her husband’s family convinced her father to accept the proposal.

Within two months of marriage, Sara’s new husband accused her of having an affair with one of her cousins. Along with his family, he began a campaign of physical and verbal abuse, threatening to kill her and her family if she refused to admit the affair in front of the Panchayat, the local tribal council.

Despite knowing that a public confession would likely end in her death, Sara gave in and swore on the Quran that she had committed adultery.  On the day of the public hearing, the Panchayat announced her punishment would be execution, as per the local custom of Karo Kari, or honour killing.

Soon after being sentenced, Sara and her father fled the village and took shelter in a relative’s home.  Her father tried to register a complaint in local police station, but was refused.

Rozan: supporting survivors and strengthening police response

After finding a safe place to stay and asking around for help, Sara’s father heard about Rozan, a national NGO working with VSO Pakistan on a programme to strengthen the police response to gender-based violence (GBV) and enhance cooperation between the police and public.

VSO Pakistan has been supporting Rozan to run an advocacy campaign in Sindh Province through the Pakistan Forum for Democratic Policing (PFDP), which brings together 65 local NGOs, including members from every district of the province. One of the objectives of the campaign is to build public awareness of the services available to survivors of gender-based violence, including shelters, women police desks, and helplines.

Sara’s father reached the Rozan team via their dedicated helpline, which provides support and counselling for GBV survivors. Rozan’s police programme team immediately arranged for officers to support her, and within hours, police officers had rescued Sara and her father, and summoned her husband and his family to the police station. 

After a thorough investigation – supported throughout by members of the police force’s Women Protection Cell – Sara’s husband retracted his false accusations, and the Panchayat overturned their decision. With the support of PFDP members and local police, and under assurances from her husband’s family that they would do her no further harm, Sara was able to file for divorce and begin to rebuild her life.

I cannot find the right words to thank Rozan and their friends here in Sukkur. Without their support I would have not been able to safeguard my daughter and her future… The Women Protection Cell still come to our house and meet with Sara to check she is happy. Now that the divorce is final, she is thinking of restarting her education.

Sara's father

Changing public attitudes and police approaches

A female officer outside a regional police station

The Sindh police chief has pledged to increase numbers of female police officers, as part of a commitment to improving gender-sensitive policing.

Since 2016, VSO and the PFDP have been working together on a four-year project, funded by AmplifyChange.

The project aims to:

  • design and launch an advocacy campaign to influence police and public behaviour towards preventing GBV, particularly rape;
  • engage new actors in breaking the silence surrounding GBV and sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR); 
  • bring together people and organisations whose combined strengths, ideas and skills can achieve more to address the issues of GBV and SRHR;
  • put relevant information in front of the right people in ways that motivate them to make meaningful use of this to improve GBV and SRHR outcomes.

The PFDP’s advocacy campaign works to raise awareness of GBV, particularly sexual violence, and build community and police coordination to combat violence.

The campaign has reached almost 500,000 people through radio, seminars, theatre performances, cricket matches, volunteer meetings, TV coverage, press releases, social media, and leaflet distribution. Alongside the wide public reach, the project has engaged with over 800 police officials.

The Sindh police chief has committed to increase female police officers and provide more facilities for gender-sensitive policing. On the recommendations of the forum, Islamabad police have established an anti-violence centre for women and children, which will provide a place for survivors to report gender-based crimes, as well as receive judicial, medical and social support.

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