Resolving gender imbalance in policing

Date: November 22, 2011
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Despite the widespread initiatives to promote equal employment opportunities and gender mainstreaming, there is a huge gender imbalance in police organisations across the world. Among the key resolutions of the 13th Annual General Meeting of the Eastern African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO) held in Kigali, Rwanda from 11-16 September 2011 was to look again at the problem of gender imbalance in the respective police organisations. Such an expressed commitment is an important step, but implementing it and correcting the problem will prove to be a challenging venture that requires correctly understanding and properly addressing the intricate issues behind the problem.

Policing has, and continuous to be a male dominated occupation. The problem is more severe in Africa and Asia. History tells us that women were not allowed to enter policing on the African continent until the 1950s and 60s. The Australasian Council of Women and Police Journal published in 2006 indicated that women make up 20.9% of all police officers in Australia, 18.1% in the UK, 12.7% in the US, and the ratio varies between 2.2 to 19.1% in Asia.. A recent assessment by the Institute for Security Studies in collaboration with the EAPCCO Secretariat, indicates that the ratio of female officers is lamentably low in the Eastern Africa region, Seychelles being an exception. In some countries, such as Burundi, it goes down to 3%. Again, the ratio declines sharply as rank level increases. In this regard, there is no exception among the countries.

The imbalance is an injustice to women. It is discriminatory and contrary to equal employment opportunity imperatives. From the service recipients’ perspective, it is also a matter of social injustice because the imbalance accounts to denial of the right of access to female police officers by female offenders and female victims of crime. As the gender imbalance continues, women`s impact on the law and order agenda and styles of policing will continue to be limited. The discrimination and other forms of gender-based violence will also continue to persist. In fields dominated by men, women face many barriers like opposition and resistance, organisational policies promoting gender separation, differential assignments, and sexual harassment.

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