Did you know that women account for less than 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce within most national police services? Or that, in some of the 52 countries and sub-regions surveyed in 2021, the percentage of women police officers was below one per cent?
While international efforts have been made to increase recruitment and retention of women in the police, progress has been slow, with an increase of only 2 per cent globally over the last five years.
Advancing gender equality and responsiveness within the criminal justice system is essential to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 5 on gender equality and Goal 16 on peace, justice and inclusive societies.
This is why the United Nations chose to highlight the role of women in policing for the celebration of the inaugural International Day of Police Cooperation and to call for renewed efforts to ensure that women are equally represented in all functions, including as leaders, of the police workforce.
“Women’s participation promotes access to justice for all, including for victims of gender-based violence, who may be more likely to seek help from women officers,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “Police must reflect the diverse societies they serve.”
“We can and must do better,” added Ms. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in her statement. “More women in the police means better policing, better crime prevention, better investigations and improved human rights compliance. As I have consistently highlighted: to achieve justice, we need more women in justice," as called for in the Women in Justice / Women for Justice campaign.
“UNODC is committed to working with our partners to improve the recruitment and retention of women across all levels of policing, to support police reform for more effective, inclusive, and accountable policing, and to facilitate police cooperation across borders.”
Police cooperation is at the heart of the mandates of UNODC, as is building representative, human-rights based and gender-sensitive police services. UNODC supports countries to address gender inequality through initiatives aiming at strengthening the capacity of women within law enforcement agencies, as well as longer-term efforts to build more gender-responsive services.
In the Sahel, the Campaign “Pourquoi pas moi?” (“Why not me?”) used TV spots, exhibitions and social media to present women working in the law enforcement sector in Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. The campaign aims to change the public’s perception of the security sector and encourage women to join the services.
Globally, UNODC has set up women’s networks, including the Women's Network of Gender Champions against Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, the Container Control Programme Women’s Network and the BMB Gender Network, which provide women with the opportunity for peer-to-peer learning, mentoring and strengthening leadership skills.
To increase gender-responsiveness of the criminal justice system and address the global epidemic of gender-based violence, UNODC provides policy-guidance and training across the world. For instance, in cooperation with Egypt’s Ministry of Interior and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation, the office held trainings on addressing violence against women for Egyptian female police academy students and law enforcement officers. UNODC also provides technical assistance to countries such as Kazakhstan in building evidence-based approaches to gender-sensitive and human-rights based policing and in enhancing equal access to justice and legal aid for all genders.
"Gender should never determine one’s role”
Many women with a law enforcement background work for UNODC, bringing a diversity of perspectives and experience. Ms. Suchaya Mokkhasen, Border Management Programme Officer for Thailand was asked what motivates her to continue working in difficult working conditions where her gender may be seen by others as a problem. She answered that “as a former Special Case Officer, my law enforcement experience opened my eyes to the gender-related barriers women face, especially in male-dominated fields like policing.”
I vividly recall representing my unit at a counterterrorism exercise where I was the sole female officer among 40 participants. The question struck me: how can we claim to make inclusive decisions when diversity is lacking even at the planning stage?”My motivation stems from the desire to bring diversity to this male-dominated area. I won't imitate men for respect; I want to be myself, evaluated solely on my abilities. Gender should never determine one's role, and achieving equity doesn't require men and women to fulfill identical positions. Both men and women in the police should have equal chances to select roles that align with their strengths and individual requirements.”