Kigali (Rwanda), 1 November 2023 - “I've seen a lot of women, not just in the police but in society, being disadvantaged - not because they don’t have capacity but because they are women. To me, it is important to address and rebalance that mentality,” says Silvia Imanyara, a former police officer in Kenya.
With over 17 years of experience in the police, Silvia has risen through the ranks to become an official at the East African Police Chief’s Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO) Secretariat. Prior to joining the Secretariat, much of her career had been spent as a trainer shaping the minds of future Kenyan police officers.
Today, alongside her duties in EAPCCO, she serves as the coordinator of the organization’s Gender Sub-committee. For Silvia, this is an essential part of both her personal and professional work.
“I have seen that within EAPCCO we are acknowledging that law enforcement needs to be more balanced, though there are still challenges that we face as women – it is up to us as the Gender Sub-committee to determine how to overcome these challenges, and we are.”
In September 2023, the Gender Sub-Committee established the Women Police Network (WPN) as a new forum designed to unite women officers from across the region.
“We were expecting many barriers when proposing the Women’s Police Network [in Kigali], such as the fact that there already exists a Gender Sub-committee, so ‘why do we now need a Women’s Police Network’? But in the end, we received a lot of support from our leaders and that was a pleasant milestone.”
Silvia explains that the sub-committee has achieved a lot related to gender mainstreaming in the region, including opening a dialogue on the topic, but also pushing for workshops, trainings and policies that recognize and address the needs of law enforcement officers, and the communities they serve.
But more needs to be done. The aim of the WPN, then, will be to increase avenues for the promotion of gender equity. Among its stated objectives is the need to “advocate for an increased number of women in decision making and leadership positions in the region.”
Despite the many progresses recorded on gender sensitivity and mainstreaming, Silvia observed that in the 14 Member Countries of EAPCCO, not one police chief is a woman. She says this will likely slow down the push for change.
“We really want a person who can relate with our issues to be at the helm in the police, and who can push for us. Putting across an idea is one thing. But having a senior person to push the agenda at the top level is another.”
However, she notes with pride that Rwanda’s Deputy Inspector General is a woman, before adding that the high number of female officers in the Rwandan and Seychelles’ police forces are “benchmarks” for gender issues in the region.
Through the WPN, officers from various countries will be able to learn from the experiences of their counterparts and eventually formulate recommendations for their own national police.
But lasting and impactful change cannot take place without the active participation of men. As such, another objective of the new body will be “to forge partnerships with men to address gender issues.”
“We need to sensitize men, so that traditional perceptions of women are done away with. We must teach men to see women as equal partners and equally able individuals.
“One issue is that men often see the laws that are promoting equality and equity as only for women, not as beneficial to all of us,” she adds, before explaining that men and women “complement each other” rather than being on opposing sides in the workplace.
As the mother of a twelve-year-old boy, Silvia knows that reaching gender equity is a matter of reshaping perceptions and norms, and that it begins at a young age. As such, she consistently reminds her son to not see girls around him as less capable, “but to see them as equal beings and equal competitors.”