"There are times when a female officer has to work twice as hard to earn her place in the workplace.”
Madare Kankanamalage Hansani Saubhagya (M.K.R.S.) Karunarathne, the Assistant Superintendent of Sri Lankan Customs, was describing the experiences of female law enforcement officers in her country, where she says the majority of the entire law enforcement sector is male.
Because it has been this way for so long, she continued, “the whole system is adapted to facilitate males more than females.” Finding a work-life balance is therefore challenging, she noted, as was finding seasoned female officers to serve as mentors for the younger generation.
Gender disparities in criminal justice institutions and law enforcement responses extend far beyond Sri Lanka. The World Customs Organization (WCO) reports that in 2020-2021, only 16 per cent of Heads of Customs administrations and 26 per cent of senior managers of Customs administrations were women. Globally, only 37 percent of customs officers overall are female. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) – WCO Container Control Programme (CCP) gender disaggregated data, meanwhile, indicates that only 25 per cent of officers populating Port Control Units (PCUs) and Air Cargo Control Units (ACCUs) in South Asia are women.
And yet, as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states, “the achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full human rights and opportunities.” This is especially poignant in the context of the fisheries sector, where women make up nearly one half of the overall fisheries sector workforce and hold up to 90 per cent of jobs in industrial-and small-scale processors. Nevertheless, the livelihoods of many of these women are affected by the reality that much of their work is often classed as unofficial and is low-paid or even unpaid. Unfortunately, these livelihoods are also directly impacted by unsustainable fishing practices and other associated illicit activities.
This snapshot highlights that gender should be recognized as an important characteristic of the fisheries sector, especially because women, men, boys and girls are affected differently by organized crime threats in fisheries.
In an attempt to address this disparity, the CCP and UNODC’s Global Maritime Crime Programme (GMCP) launched the Blue Enforcement Project. The core focus of the project was to support the national maritime law enforcement response to crimes in the fisheries sector in the Maldives and Sri Lanka. However, the promotion of gender equality was a priority during project design, which was translated into the inclusion of a separate outcome dedicated to the empowerment of women in maritime law enforcement and the strengthening of networks for women working in this sector.
The development of this interregional network of women officers was facilitated during a gender equality and women’s leadership workshop in Bangkok for customs and law enforcement officers of the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
On 23 March 2023 in Copenhagen, Denmark, UNODC participated in the Blue Justice Conference and held a side event on the Blue Enforcement Project and the importance of understanding gender roles in tackling crimes in the fisheries sector in Sri Lanka and Maldives.
M.K.H.S. Karunarathne, who had participated in the Bangkok gender workshop, spoke during the event.
“It has been a wonderful platform for women,” she testified. “It broadened our [women customs and law enforcement officers] views on gender, gender stereotypes, gender equality, and gender discrimination.” Thanks to the platform, she said, the women are now able to connect, learn from each other, and share their experiences.CCP, through the CCP Women’s Network, will continue to champion the goal of gender equality and gender mainstreaming under the Blue Enforcement Project and other global initiatives.
The Blue Enforcement project is implemented by two UNODC global programmes, including GMCP and CCP, with the generous funding of the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries.
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Read more: Blue Justice Conference 2023