UNODC Encourages Women Empowerment in West Africa

Socio-cultural barriers and gender inequalities are deeply entrenched in West African societies. The underrepresentation of women professionals among law enforcement and criminal justice agencies result in women's marginalization from decision making processes. More importantly, the underrepresentation of women in law enforcement agencies has an adverse impact on the way they address sexual violence on women and girls and the way they deal with women criminals. Indeed, it is necessary that law enforcement agencies represent all the population in proportion in accordance with the international norms and standards and in respect of human rights.

In response, UNODC has undertaken a series of initiatives to mainstream gender-related considerations in its activities including continued engagement with governments to encourage the designation of female participants to training workshops organized in the region. These encouragements contribute to UNODC's efforts in the region to raise awareness on the necessity, and benefits, of promoting gender equality among law enforcement and judicial authorities.

Lieutenant Mariam Konaté

The West African Central Authorities and Prosecutors against Organized Crime (WACAP), a UNODC initiative implemented with the support of the ECOWAS Commission and the ECOWAS Court of Justice, is a network of focal points that enables central authorities and relevant practitioners to exchange information. UNODC greatly encourages the nomination of female focal points and, as of today, 10 out of 24 focal points are women.  The AIRCOP Project, in West and Central Africa, trained 2531 persons including 221 women (9%) since its beginning in 2013. Moreover, among  10 000 beneficiaries of  the Sahel Programme, 13% were women.

UNODC strives not only to consider gender mainstreaming in the context of obtaining equal participation of men and women in training activities, but also to counter persisting stereotypes and to ensure the application of international best practices by national institutions. For instance, the  Container Control Programme (CCP)created its  Women's Network in August 2015. A gender awareness training module has become a mandatory part of the two-week theoretical training course of the CCP and the Women's Network has developed an action-oriented framework laying out its goals, including defining gender indicators to assess impact, encouraging the Programme's Port Control Units (PCUs) to include female officers by enacting gender-sensitized recruitment criteria and flexible working hours, and establishing a support network to build capacity of female officers.

Thus, UNODC gives more and more consideration to the removal of obstacles to secure equal access of men and women to UNODC activities and encouraging national authorities to take active measures to increase the number of women professionals among all law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.

There are, indeed, a few examples of women who managed to break the glass ceilings and have successful careers in this field. One example is Lieutenant Mariam Konaté, Customs Controller at the Research and Intervention Division of the Direction of Intelligence and Customs Investigations in Bamako. A woman of conviction, she expressed that "peace and security are everyone's responsibility. Each of us have a role to play". A second example is Inspecteur Agnéce Ndiogoye, Director of the Reubeuss prison in Dakar, Senegal, who is the first woman to become Officer in her country, the first Inspector and the first woman to become Director of the Reubeuss prison, the biggest prison in the capital.

Reubeuss prison, Dakar, Senegal

Both Mrs. Konaté and Mrs. Ndiogoye were recruited through a competitive recruitment process. According to them, ensuring an open and fair competitive recruitment process is one way of reducing gender inequality and increasing women representation in the public sector since it provides equal chances to succeed as their male counterparts. Both have been leading successful law enforcement careers in their respective administrations. Indeed, Mrs. Konaté has improved her skills by undertaking several trainings with UNODC on the use of drug and precursor identification kits and, in January 2016, she received a Certificate of Merit from the World Customs Organization. Likewise, Mrs. Ndiogoye was promoted to the Reubeuss prison in July 2016 when she was only 36 years old and received several distinctions from the Senegalese government.

Both are women of conviction and see themselves as examples for other women: "Senegalese women would benefit from taking their rightful place in the workforce, not remaining in secondary positions and believing more in themselves" said Agnéce Ndiogoye in February 2018. She noted that women are more educated than men but they are less likely to occupy managerial positions. She also insisted on the existing examples of women succeeding in the penitentiary: "I know women who hold key positions in prisons as chief clerks or accountants and do a great job." She concluded: "As the first women to be given a chance, we have a moral responsibility to succeed in our jobs."

Inspector Agnéce Ndiogoye

Stories like those of Mariam Konaté and Agnéce Ndiogoye illustrate how women can succeed in a leadership position in the peace and security field when given a chance. More generally, as women play a vital role to ensure social cohesion in their communities, their participation and leadership in peace and security governance in West Africa should be promoted.

Consequently, improving female representation in managerial positions and encouraging women's participation in the maintenance of peace and security are important considerations for  UNODC Regional Programme for West Africa (2016-2020). In implementing projects and activities within the context of the Programme, UNODC employs gender responsive and gender-sensitive approaches to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality. Indeed, 2030 Agenda recognizes that the full realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls contributes substantially to achieving progress across all Sustainable Development Goals and that the systematic mainstreaming of a gender perspective is crucial for their success.

For more information:

UNODC Regional Programme for West Africa (2016-2020)

Lake Chad Basin: integrating gender dimensions to fight terrorism

Sahel: Governments achieve positive results with UN support