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Women work alongside men at checkpoints

Updated: 2013-08-06 08:15
By Zhang Yunbi ( China Daily)

When arriving in Pakistan, foreigners may be amazed to learn that young women - such as Gulnaz Malik - serve at security checkpoints in a country where women's lives remain largely mysterious to outsiders.

The 26-year-old undergraduate student, who operates security scanners as an intern at an Islamabad hotel, told China Daily it is not unusual for women to disregard the potential threat of terrorism.

Women work alongside men at checkpoints

"I do not feel any pressure because security is part of our life," said Malik, when asked how she felt when she saw someone who appeared suspicious approaching.

Media reports depict the South Asian country as one wracked by bomb attacks from the Pakistani Taliban as well as local militants.

As a byproduct of the lingering turbulence and intimidating security circumstances in the country, security screening and bodyguards have become a booming business.

With fears of attacks constant, many private businesses, including major shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and government buildings, have hired security personnel and installed their own inspection posts and X-ray scanners.

"Four or five years ago, the situation was worse around the country," said Ishfaq Kiani, 39, a section chief for a security screening team working for hotels in Islamabad.

The security situation in some major cities has improved but some remote areas, especially northern mountainous areas, still experience violent assaults against the army by terrorists and militants, Kiani said.

Plaguing concerns

In Islamabad, the situation has been less troubled over the past two years and it is in general better than in other towns and cities.

Yet bomb attacks have never stopped making headlines in big cities such as the southern port city of Karachi - one of Pakistan's largest cities.

Malik does not try to conceal the fact that she worries for family members in Karachi when she watches TV news reports about bombings on the city's streets.

Such attacks are frequent. In Karachi on the evening of July 20, at least one person was killed and three others were injured when a car bomb exploded in Hassan Square .

"I worry about my family. Every time there is a blast, I call them," Malik said.

Ordinary Pakistani people have become accustomed to frequent security checks in their daily lives. The thriving security checking business also gave helping hands to Malik, who took her current post last year for "some financial problems" of her family.

"Yes, I got my payment", she said

According to Kiani, women such as Malik work equally alongside males in the Islamic country, which has a ministry for women's empowerment.

"The trend has changed," Kiani said, with more than 40 percent of the country's workers now female.

When asked how people treat security staff members, Malik said some people treat them well but others may demonstrate bad manners as a result of poor education, impatience or resentment.

"It is part of our duty for better security, and when we are not treated with good manners, I explain the issue of safety," she said.

"Sometimes people get angry with us, so I say, 'It is for your own safety', to handle it in a very polite way", she added.

Pakistan estimates that it has suffered more than 40,000 casualties since it joined the efforts to combat terrorism following the Sept 11, 2001, attacks.

Despite nationwide alerts regarding attacks by extremists and militants, there have been more than 6,000 fatalities in both 2011 and 2012.

Agha Nadeem, Federal Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, said the country is striving to eradicate terrorism and minimize the impact of attacks on local people and foreign visitors.

"Pakistan is striving very hard to be part of the peace process," Nadeem said.

At the moment, "Pakistan definitely welcomes tourists to Pakistan, but it will take some more time for the country to overcome this," he said.