sp amna baig

Written by Paradigm Shift 8:57 pm Interviews

A Conversation with SP Amna Baig

In our conversation with SP Amna Baig, who created the Gender Protection Unit in Islamabad, we explore her difficult CSS journey, her choices as a woman in Pakistan, and her desire to set an example of strength for the women in the country.
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  1. Hello, SP Amna Baig! Since many of our readers are CSS aspirants, could you first tell us what was it about CSS that got you interested?

I joined civil services 7 years ago, and the reason was that my father was a civil servant, and I saw him do a lot of good work by just being honest and doing his job. I saw the impact he made in people’s lives, and growing up, I thought that was a great thing to do.

Another reason was that we did not have a lot of female role models while growing up. Women were generally not working in fields where the ‘men were supposed to’. It was more of a gender role thing where people believed ‘women should do x’ and ‘men should do y’. But I always believed that I was good enough and that I was equally capable of doing what my father was doing. However, because there were not enough women in this field (and in these positions), it always felt like an impossible task.

After I grew up, I realized there was a way to go about these things, and that is that one just has to break the glass ceiling, and prove to people that women can do all that men are doing.

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  1. Who has been the biggest inspiration to SP Amna Baig, and why? And who has been the biggest source of support and motivation for you?

Motivation? Absolutely, other women. I saw so many women around me, who were so amazingly capable, but because of the gender roles and gender norms that we have in Pakistan, these women were usually confined to their houses and were working in a very limited capacity. And if they were given the opportunity, they would have done so much more with their lives.

So the motivation was that if I have a daughter, she doesn’t grow up with the regret that her mother couldn’t achieve her own larger goals in life, even though she was capable enough. So yeah, that was my main motivation. Other women around me, seeing them unable to realize their potential, that was it.

In terms of support, it was initially my immediate family, but now it is completely and totally my husband. To be honest, given the circumstances in this patriarchal society, he has been a source of great support with everything. I don’t think I would have been able to do this without his support – emotional, and otherwise. So, kudos to him for not having a conventional mindset, and being a cool person, etcetera 😊

  • Why CSS?

To be honest, I come from a very conventional family. The social legitimacy that I experienced growing up (w.r.t. women’s careers) was largely linked to them being either teachers, nurses, doctors, or civil servants. To be clear, I don’t share the same viewpoint – I think women can excel in every field.

However, while growing up, I knew that my parents would probably only be comfortable with me doing a job, which was, you know, civil service. So that was the reason, the social legitimacy attached to the career, and my parents’ acceptance of it as a career for women. Because the reality of it is that we live in a patriarchal society, and a lot of it depends on what the men decide in the household. So, I just wanted to make the most of the opportunity that I had. 

  • What was your CSS journey like? (we would like a super-candid answer for our audience!)

My CSS journey was actually very tough, because I’m a very, very average student – extremely average student actually. I graduated with a 2.8 CGPA in my undergrad! I feel like that’s the reason I had to study a lot more than a lot of other people around me. I appeared in the civil service exam right after my undergrad, since I was very clear during the university tenure that I wanted to do CSS. So right after graduation, that’s what I did.

I started preparing for them and then appeared in the exams. However, despite all the studying, I was unable to clear it on my first attempt. I did clear them in my second attempt, Alhamdulillah, but it was after lots and lots of effort. A preparation of almost eight months went into clearing the exams – and the stress, oh my God. It comes with a LOT of stress. My friends know how much stress I was under, and how I went down a hole full of uncertainty, the stress of not clearing it the first time, the studying – and so much more. So yeah, it was very very very tough.

  • Would you recommend CSS to our youth currently? Why?

I would definitely recommend civil services as a career, and I would recommend, especially to women! I think there is a huge gap that needs to be filled by women officers in the civil service because half of the country’s population is women. They need to now come up and take these leadership positions, and break the notions that only men can do this stuff. 

I think that it is an extremely rewarding profession. It does come with an opportunity cost in terms of your time. Moreover, you might not make a lot of money! However, despite all that, I think it’s extremely rewarding in other ways which make it worth it.

  • Why did you choose PSP instead of DMG or Foreign Services?

My father was from DMG and I saw him do a lot of administrative work, and I never thought that was too interesting to be honest – to each his own! I think I’ve probably just binged on a lot of crime series growing up and I was so fascinated by investigating crimes and all the related stuff that I saw. I think a lot of us watched CID, that super popular crime show on the Indian TV channel, Sony – that really fascinated me. 

Then when the internet became readily available, I think it was YouTube and Netflix, which had amazing content revolving around crime which fascinated me even more. And then again, of course, the stereotype that women can’t do this and you know, only men can do policing, etc., that challenged me too.

I also feel that one of the reasons was that I wanted freedom and empowerment in ways that I thought that maybe only the police would be able to bring. But yeah, I think it was a combination of all these factors that really cemented my decision to join PSP.

  • What has your journey in the police been like?

It’s honestly the best thing that ever happened to me. I mean it’s so interesting, there are so many stories, and there’s just so much there. I mean it’s so rewarding that it compensates for the emotional toll it takes – and actually just makes you a strong person. I mean, it has its ups and downs, but it has changed me as a person, and the best thing is that it has enabled me to help a lot of people along the way.

It has been great so far, and I don’t think I can ever give it up for anything else – and I won’t, In Sha Allah. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had great bosses throughout, and I have not faced gender discrimination of any sort which I was actually expecting. I truly believe that it has been amazing, and as I mentioned previously, so so rewarding.

I appreciate it even more being as a woman in Pakistan, where women generally do not get the opportunity to experience the sort of things that I have experienced during my time in the police. I’m talking in terms of empowerment, in terms of being in a position to help a lot of people, in terms of freedom, and in terms of awareness.

One of the best things was the awareness that I got about my rights as a woman in this country. I got to learn about the help that’s available to women in the country, about our legal rights, and about the equality that the constitution of this country assures. All of those things, which most of us women don’t even know/realize while growing up.

  • Has being a female police officer hindered your growth in any way? How supportive have your colleagues been?

Honestly, I was expecting gender discrimination when I started off. I thought that my under-command officers or my seniors might not take me seriously because I’m a girl, but that’s not how it works. I mean they all have been extremely welcoming. I think once you wear a uniform, there is no gender, you and your male counterparts are supposed to do an equal amount of work. You actually have the same responsibilities.

There is no difference between a male police officer and a female police officer once you start the job – or even while you’re training for it. In fact, I always joke about this, that women end up doing more work than men in the police because generally, there are just one or two women in a district, and they end up handling the gender-based violence cases for their respective districts, in addition to their usual duties and responsibilities – which means more work.

I also think the world has changed in many ways. We have so many female police officers around us that the gender debate has almost gone away in some places. But, yeah, I think it’s your competence that matters at the end of the day – basically how good you are at your work. You can be a man or a woman: if you’re good at your job, seniors will appreciate you and juniors will be happy to be under your command.

  • SP Amna Baig, what has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think my biggest achievement to date has been that women who have seen me as a policewoman now know that this profession exists for them alongside men. They can now see that they have an equal opportunity to join the police too. When I walk in the streets or go to markets in uniform during my work hours, I see young girls looking at me in surprise. I can tell that they see new possibilities, that it is now a reality that they can grow up and decide to work as a policewoman.

So my achievement – just by joining this police service – is showing my fellow Pakistani women this reality, and setting an example for them, to help them realize that this is also one possible career option. I mean, there have been instances where I was wearing civil clothes, and other people introduced me as a policewoman to young girls, and they instantly reacted with a “oh that’s not possible! Women can’t be in the police, right?”, just because we have this notion ingrained in children’s minds that these are gendered roles, and these are things that women can’t do.

When I break these notions in the minds of young girls or young women, just by being in the police, it is maybe my biggest achievement so far.

  • What has been your biggest failure, or hiccup to date?

I’m not sure, to be honest, I can’t think of any such thing off the top of my head – it’s just the fact that the work has been so rewarding that I don’t see the negatives as negatives. However, one of the things I would admit is that there is an opportunity cost that comes with the career. You do have less time on your hands, which means that you have less time for your family – especially for my husband, in my case. I haven’t been able to manage my work-life balance perfectly in the last four years, so maybe you could call that a hiccup.

  • Can you tell us something about the police force in Pakistan that most people don’t know?

Yeah, every police station generally has a female police officer! She could be a constable, a head constable, a sub-inspector, a sub-divisional police officer, or even a station house officer (SHO)! This is a vital piece of information that I’d like to pass on through this interview because most of the time, women are very hesitant to even go to a police station just because they think that only men will be there.

If you go to a police station and request the officers to let you speak to a female police officer, they will arrange it for you. Since over half our population is female, 100 million+ women should know this!

  • What would you say, is the most interesting case that you have come across (if you’re at liberty to share a few details of course!)

They have been many, many cases, but I think one of the most important ones that I have handled in my career was the Noor Muqaddam case. It changed me as a police officer, it changed my perspective on crime, it changed my perspective on gender-based violence, and it really just shook me as a person.

I really hope that we are able to get justice in this case as soon as possible. It was devastating. I can never forget the whole process of the investigation – from the beginning to the end, the media attention, the sympathy towards the victim, and the family, and feeling the immense responsibility of doing justice to the case.

  • If you hadn’t done CSS, what would you have been doing?

If I had not taken the CSS exams, I would have definitely been a hairdresser. That has actually been my life goal – actually it still is,  and I still think that one day maybe I’ll achieve it. Maybe one day I will have my own hair salon and be doing people’s hair! I actually cut my husband’s hair, and I’m very proud of it. I’m also hoping to hone my skills very soon.

  • What do you think is the biggest challenge for the youth of this country today, and what would your recommendations be to overcome it?

I think the biggest challenge for the youth is the uncertainty and the lack of clarity about what they want to do after they graduate. I think it starts right after their intermediate. Aside from the students who start working towards set career paths (like becoming engineers, or doctors), the others just jump into programs without thinking things through.

Most students these days have access to the internet, which means that they have a wide array of sources to research their potential career goals/career paths. I believe that they should use those sources and start researching what career they are aspiring for, what the potential of that career path is, what the demands are, and what undergraduate degree/post-graduate degree would help them achieve their eventual goals.

Doing research to select their programs is vital because I see so many students just getting enrolled into whatever degree they felt like at the time, with no idea what to do once they graduate. I did that as well! I made that mistake too by the way.

After I graduated with a degree in economics, I realized that was not the degree that I wanted. So, I ended up doing another undergraduate degree, which was an LLB and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And if I could go back in time, I’d go back and do the LLB. Back then, we were not very aware and did not have access to a lot of information, but I think now the youth should definitely focus on exploring different degrees and career paths.

And I strongly believe that CSS is not – and should not – be the end goal for everyone. Everybody is blessed with different skills and talents that God has given them, and they should definitely see what makes them happy. They should know what their talents and strengths are, and they should focus on honing and utilizing those. The world is open and they can achieve anything that they want. But of course, putting in the right amount of effort, researching where the world is headed, what the needs of the future are – and catching up with that – is extremely important.  

  • What is your advice for the girls and women in this country, who have found a huge role model in you?

I would just try to tell them that I am EXACTLY like you. I studied in government schools. I come from a very traditional family. I was initially growing up believing that a woman’s role is just to get married and have children. My story is exactly like yours. I am not from the outside, I am from within you.

I just want you to know that if somebody like me can make it, with a Matric and an F.A., anybody can. With the same dynamics in the house, with the same restrictions that women experience in our country (where men don’t), I just want everyone to know that if an average student from a conventional background can do it, so can you.

  • What facet of society are you most passionate about making a difference to? What would you need to achieve your goals there?

I think a lot of things are interlinked with women’s empowerment. The economy of the country, the social structure of the country, everything is linked to that. I do believe that if you empower the women in the country, it’s for the benefit of all.

It’s an ideological thing, changing ideologies takes time, it’s a long, long struggle that we have in front of us, but I do hope that I can make some difference in some people’s minds, in changing their perspective on what role women should take on in the society. I think that’s what I’m trying to work towards, and I aim to do my part in that.

  • I’m sure the stress of your job negatively impacts your mental health. What keeps you going, and what do you do to relax & unwind?

I love to cook! I love to spend time with my husband and my dog. I love going out with my friends, and I love to socialize! All of these things combined. I also think cooking is therapeutic. I am a foodie at heart, so I love to cook and I love to eat. I love to clean as well. I am a very homely person. At times, just to relax, I start deep-cleaning my room (laughs).

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