NEW DELHI: Pooja Yadav (name changed) has been an inspector in the Delhi police for the past 25 years. She has witnessed the change in attitude towards women cops in that time. Yet she thinks that women still have to fight a little extra to prove themselves in the force.

“It’s easy for men,” she says.

Across the border, when the Chinese consulate in Karachi was attacked in 2018, the police acted promptly to prevent the suicide bombers entering the building. What caught the media’s attention was the cop leading the force: Suhai Aziz, an assistant superintendent in the Sindh police.

Despite her enviable achievement, Aziz says people still take disproportionate interest in Suhai, the woman. “I am asked more often about my personal life than my professional life,” she tells The Citizen. Perhaps people find it difficult to believe that a woman can successfully manage family life with professional life.

Men have the advantage in terms of employment in both countries. According to an Oxfam report, women in India are paid 34% less than similarly qualified men for performing the same tasks. There is also a sexual and gendered division of workers, with occupations from politics to business, plumbing and carpentry to the armed forces dominated by men.

Policing is considered to be one such job, as it involves being on your toes around the clock, facing dangerous situations, and responding to pressures from the higher command.

Patriarchalism, motherhood, and ideals of womanhood are the add-ons for women who join the force. Some are able to surmount these barriers but many are not. According to a report by the Indian government published in 2018, women constitute only 7% of the country’s police.

“It’s a challenging and demanding job,” says Yadav. She says there is discrimination to some extent, and women are given less work than their male counterparts.

In Pakistan too, women continue to struggle for their rights against patriarchal norms. The police profession being male dominated, women have had to fight harder to earn their deserved place.

There is official recognition of the lack of female police officers: a Supreme Court ruling fixed a 10% quota in Assistant Superintendent of Police jobs for women, in addition to the seats they secure in general recruitment.

On the division of work, Yadav says that “high profile cases are mostly assigned to male cops. Females accompany only when needed.” Women are mostly assigned to cases of rape and domestic violence, and posted to stations in “safer” locations.

She thinks that in many cases she could’ve done better than her male counterparts, but couldn’t because she wasn’t assigned the case. And she feels that somehow men’s capabilities are not doubted at all, even if they are not competent to handle a case. The same does not apply to female cops.

Suman (name changed), a police inspector, says they don’t need to prove their talent. Men can also fail at many things. “Atleast give us a chance, if we don’t meet the expectations, we’ll step down,” she says.

It is important to support an adequate ratio of women in the workforce, says Aziz, as the presence of women in organisations is very important.

“Unfortunately, it is difficult for them to join the police force because of cultural constraints.” The environment of the police station is such that families do not allow their daughters to join the force, Aziz tells The Citizen.

The challenges these cops face are not limited to the department. They often find themselves in deep waters dealing with offenders who do not take them as seriously because of their gender.

Yadav described such instances. “If a lady cop approaches a rickshaw puller for any default by him, it is more likely that they will take it for granted, which may not happen if a male cop would’ve been there.” It's not a routine thing, she says, but women have to face it more often.

Both Yadav and Suman are of the view that working women needs more family support than men, as the onus to raise their children well and take care of the family remains with them. And if their male counterparts and family don’t support their career, things get even more difficult.

Both said they are fortunate to have families that have always supported them. They say the situation has changed a lot for women: for instance the number of women inspectors in Delhi has risen substantially.

For Aziz too, one of the contributing factors is family support. Originally from a rural space, it isn’t easy for women in Pakistan to step out to go to work and earn money. In such a scenario, stepping out and building a career as a successful woman police officer has relied on support from her family.

These women cops aren’t totally pessimistic. They say they have many advantages over women working in other sectors.

Suman says her occupation is a secured one, where she can raise her voice. The job has empowered her. In her view it's difficult for women in other sectors to report their bosses’ misconduct, and when they do they face repercussions.

“We are in a better position. We can complain about it and demand action, without any backlash,” she says.

According to Yadav, there are many courses being run for gender sensitisation in the police and the situation is slowly changing, although a lot is still pending. She says the job has boosted their confidence and vanished their fears. They feel independent.

“I can do better than men in a lot of work, we are not behind them,” she says.

Asim Muhammad Ameen and Syed Osama Ali contributed inputs from Karachi