The first women joined Bangladesh Police in 1974 and made history. The number of policewomen in the force increased gradually since then, but quite a few female cops believe despite a rise in participation, their assigned responsibilities did not grow adequately.
Only a handful of women police officers – who already achieved the rank of sub-inspectors (SI) – are presently investigating different crimes across the country. Besides, the divisions of Dhaka Metropolitan Police are nearly devoid of female leadership.
Experts say female cops are vital for investigating crimes against women and children, such as rape and sexual assault. There are 797 female SIs in the country, but in reality, a lions' share of them seldom get the opportunity to investigate cases, Bangladesh Police data shows.
A total of 26,695 rape cases have been filed across the country in the past five years, says a recent report submitted to the High Court by the Office of Inspector General of Police (IGP).
As such incidents are on the rise, when it comes to the conviction rate in rape cases, the situation is as grim as it was before. Reportedly, the conviction rate in those cases is still only three percent, with around 97 percent of the accused getting acquittal from the court, it mentions.
If more female police officers are assigned to investigate such cases, they will have a much better chance at convincing the victims and witnesses to speak out against the culprits, which in turn will help boost the conviction rate significantly.
Commenting on the issue, women rights lawyer Barrister Miti Sanjana told The Business Standard that female officers are essential for investigating cases related to repression of women.
"But most of the time, we find that such cases are being investigated by policemen. This is a grave concern for those working to ensure justice for repressed women," she said.
As of January 2021, there are 15,163 policewomen in the Bangladesh Police, which is only 7.92% of the total personnel. The force can appoint up to 212,000 male and female personnel. The number of policewomen was 13,402 and 2,520 till July 2019 and September 2008 respectively.
Amena Begum, deputy inspector general (protection & protocol) of the Special Branch of Police, said, "Sub-inspectors are assigned to investigate cases, but the number of female SIs are very low in the force. So, it is not possible to appoint female SIs at every police station in the country.
"This is why it is difficult to find women SIs in most police stations. Despite their low numbers, female cops are doing exceptionally well at performing their duties.
Amena Begum, who also serves as the president of Bangladesh Women Police Network (BWPN), added, "Policewomen such as assistant sub-inspectors (ASI) are deployed at the women and child affairs desk at every police station.
"We can deploy ASIs for this desk, but the law does not permit appointing anyone as a case investigator below the sub-inspector rank. Appointing more female sub-inspectors would solve this problem."
Amena Begum also pointed out that due to the existing system, the policewomen are facing several challenges, and the much lower number of female cops in the force is acting as a major barrier.
"Besides, a policewoman is not only a law enforcer, but also someone's mother, sister, daughter or wife. Alongside with duties to their nation, they have duties to their families. This is a challenge every policewoman has to tackle."
Seeking anonymity, an additional deputy commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police said, "There are presently 71 policewomen in the force holding rank equivalent to superintendents of police.
"However, no female officer is currently leading as a deputy commissioner in the Detective Branch, Crime Division and Traffic Division under the Dhaka Metropolitan Police."
"It seems," she continued, "we are being assigned work that requires less responsibility, and sometimes senior officials even think we are not capable of handling bigger responsibilities.
"The number of policewomen in the force has been increasing, but the amount of operational and investigational duties we are getting is far from adequate."
Another female ASP, working in a coastal district circle under Chattogram Range, said, "In remote areas, I mostly deal with rape cases. We need more female officers in these areas, as they can easily speak to victims and witnesses, and persuade them to share more information about these crimes.
Responding to a query, Assistant Inspector General (Media) of the Police Headquarters Md Sohel Rana said the authorities are concerned about the shortage of policewomen in the force.
"The number policewomen is increasing every year, and problems related to investigation of cases that require female cops will be solved in the coming days," he said with optimism.