Gender equity must define police force

A Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report has drawn attention to the deep prejudice against women in the police forces of South Asian countries. The report explored the situation of women in the police forces of Bangladesh, India, Maldives and Pakistan in 2014-15, and found that the Maldivian police force was the most inclusive with 7.4 per cent of its police personnel comprising women. Women accounted for just 6.1 per cent of the police force in India, 4.6 per cent in Bangladesh and an abysmal 0.9 per cent in Pakistan, the study found. Of the states and Union Territories in India that were surveyed, Chandigarh fared the best with women accounting for 14.16 per cent of its police force and Assam the worst with 0.9 per cent. Besides their small numbers, women cops are perceived as less tough and unwilling to work. This perception appears to be the outcome of negative stereotypes of women, rather than based on their performance at work. While a male cop in an inebriated state at work doesn’t raise eyebrows, and may even prompt a chuckle, a women cop who asks for leave is accused of being disinterested in her work, as having other priorities and so on. There is discrimination in the kind of work allotted too. Generally, women are restricted to woman-related tasks such as policing other women or accompanying women detainees to court. Even the infrastructure available in a police station is hostile to women; most police stations do not have a separate toilet for women.

That India’s police force is overwhelmingly male is well-known. That it is so despite the Union Home Ministry issuing an advisory to the states and Union Territories five years ago calling on them to ensure that women constitute 33 per cent of their police forces indicates the intensity of resist-ance to including women. While such resistance is evident in all professions, it is stronger in law enforcement agencies and security forces that are widely seen as ‘tough’ jobs that are best done by men. Underlying the perception of the unsuitability of women for these jobs is misperception of women as weak.All police personnel, men and women, need to be put through gender sensitisation programmes.
More women must be recruited across ranks and they need to be assigned not just to policing women but appointed to decision and policy formulating positions as well. India’s police are often criticised for their crude, insensitive and often tactless conduct. That could change if gender equity defined our police force.

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