Pakistani trailblazer wins award for UN female police Peacekeepers

By United Nations

Police officer Shahzadi Gulfam tackles difficult policing challenges with determination and a smile. In the process, she has made the communities in her charge safer places to live.

Ms. Gulfam, currently a United Nations Police (UNPOL) Team Leader with the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), is this year's recipient of the UN International Female Police Peacekeeper Award.

Granted by the UN and the International Association of Women Police (IAWP), the award went to Ms. Gulfam for her work to protect vulnerable people in several countries. It was handed out on Sunday at the IAWP's annual training conference in Lexington in the United States.

For Ms. Gulfam, the award is the culmination of a career she has built step by step since she first joined the Pakistani police force in 1985.

“I was born in a remote village of Pakistan in a predominantly traditional, patriarchal society,” she said. “Against all the heavy odds I decided to work as a police officer. It was not an easy task itself.”

First, Ms. Gulfam joined the Punjab Police, where she worked for the investigation unit. Then she became a member of the Punjab Highway Patrol, where she was instrumental in improving the province's traffic system.

On the international level, Ms. Gulfam was the first female police officer deployed by Pakistan to a UN peacekeeping mission in 1997. She worked in Bosnia, followed by an assignment to Kosovo in 1999.

“In Bosnia and Kosovo I believe that I became a role model for local women and my example encouraged them to join the police force… The newly elected President of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga, is a former police officer. Her example shows that it is possible to crack and break the glass ceiling.”

Ms. Gulfam also spent time as the Pakistani police contingent commander in Timor-Leste, where she was in charge of 27 police officers.

Now she is the UNPOL Team Leader with the Vulnerable Persons Unit (VPU) in the capital, Dili. Upon her arrival, there had been 411 cases pending investigation since 2007. Within a year Ms. Gulfam has already solved more than 70 cases.

As an UNPOL officer she is responsible for receiving and acting on complaints submitted by vulnerable people, especially women, children and those with disabilities. Beyond “traditional” police work, Ms. Gulfam has taken on VPU duties such as seeking medical assistance for victims of child abuse and domestic violence and addressing issues related to human trafficking.

The officer was instrumental in involving a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in assisting victims of sexual assault and abuse. She has also enhanced the VPU with a child-friendly investigation room and adjacent garden and playground.

“Timor-Leste is a typical post-conflict society, where domestic violence is rampant,” explained Ms. Gulfam, who said her job is especially difficult when victims do not report to the police.

Many victims decline to provide testimony because they are afraid or unaware of their rights. In response, Ms. Gulfam has carried out a public awareness programmes on the Timorese law adopted in 2010 which declared domestic violence a public crime, and enhanced outreach to victims through liaison with NGOs.

Each UN peacekeeping mission nominated two officers for the award. Ms. Gulfam was surprised to be chosen, and passed the credit to her commanding officers and PNTL colleagues.

“My wish is that I do something good for the Timorese. I was away from the mission at the time when the news broke. I jumped when I received the news,” she said. “To be honest it was my dream. My friend told me about the IAWP. I looked it up and saw all the women from Europe and Canada and the United States; I thought that I could never get this award.”