A watershed moment for UNODC in the delivery of essential justice and policing to safeguard the rights of women and girls in Punjab

13 October 2020, Lahore: Despite continued efforts, evidence shows that the provision of legal frameworks and response of the justice system remain fragile in addressing the severity and the nature of gender-based violence in Punjab. The majority of the cases are under-reported, and the conviction rate is dismally low. Law enforcement agencies’ response is frail in protecting the well-being and safety of victims and survivors; and ensuring women’s access to justice.

UNODC takes immense pride in collectively working with the other UN Agencies, including UNFPA, UN Women and WHO with the financial support from the Government of the UK and Australia to host a Consensus Building Workshop from 13 to 14 October in Lahore. A high-profile gathering of senior speakers, observers and panelists from the public and development sectors, including gender, human rights and rule of law experts brought in a wealth of experience and knowledge to cross-learn and develop a shared vision towards protection of women and girls through essential justice and policing services.

The event also observed the historic launch of the Essential Services Package (ESP) in Lahore with a particular focus on the development of sectoral action plans to take a pragmatic approach in putting the package into action.

The experts went over the guidelines from the module to take a nuanced approach to understand and recommend how to address the distinct needs of women and girls through a broad range of justice options that need to be available for victims and survivors. They discussed aspects of the relevant legal domains: matters related to criminal, civil land family laws, including divorce and child custody, issues which are most rampant in Pakistan and find least effective mechanisms for redressal. UNODC has led the component related to ‘Essential Justice and Policing Module’ that aims to safeguard the rights of women and girls subject to violence.

Mr. Jeremy Milsom, Representative, UNODC Office in Pakistan, cited glaring evidence from across the world during his address to the plenary, noting the estimated cost of violence against women is up to 3.7% of a country’s GDP – that is actually more than double what most governments spend on education. He also highlighted the significance of effective operationalizing of the ESP, noting that 56% of women who have experienced any type of physical or sexual violence have not sought any help or talked with anyone.

The participants from the Punjab Police reaffirmed the highlighted issues and underscored the need for extending effective support to the survivors of gender-based violence, whereby it was unanimously agreed that  ‘home’ is an unsafe place for women and girls, with high prevalence of domestic and intimate partner violence. A lack of coordination amongst the police, prosecution, judiciary, health department and social services was also identified as a key bottleneck to realize coherent and effective delivery of the essential services to survivors and victims of violence.

A few of the key recommendations included: sensitization and awareness on women’s rights through  coordination between academia, religious leaders, NGOs, influencers and media; implementation of women protection laws to encourage reporting of VAW cases; maintenance of accurate data and record of GBV cases; training of frontline police in pro-women laws; seeking advice from the Punjab Women Protection Authority and Punjab Commission on the Status of Women; better coordination between law enforcement, health and social services; strengthening the pre-trial and post-trial process to reduce further GBV risks to the survivors. Establish an enabling environment for women to report at the police station, sensitize male police officers on GBV cases, implement SOPs in survivor-sensitive investigation and the use of latest techniques and forensics to investigate crimes of violence against women.

The event heralded the beginning of setting up and applying actionable standards to enable the delivery of quality services across all sectors to improve the response to women and girls’ survivors and victims of GBV.