What role can gender-sensitive police reform (GSPR) play in post-conflict situations? This policy briefing paper, published by UNIFEM and UNDP, argues that post-conflict contexts present important opportunities for law-enforcement reform. At the same time, the need for GSPR in practice is particularly acute during peacekeeping missions and the process of rebuilding state institutions. Key aspects of gender-sensitive police reform are discussed, drawing on findings from an inter-agency study and from programming in various countries undertaken by UNIFEM and UNDP.
The UN’s first-ever all-female peacekeeping unit, comprising over 100 women police officers, was dispatched by the Government of India to Liberia in early 2007. From initial reports, it appears that their presence has emboldened Liberian women both to seek justice and to join their own national police force. Although just one example of how the UN is striving to bring GSPR directly into post-conflict states, this peacekeeping unit provides some indication of the positive results that are possible.
The following findings underline key aspects of GSPR, with special attention to experience gleaned from challenging post-conflict situations:
- Violence against women tends to continue unabated without bold institutional change. Abuses of women’s rights must be criminalised, and police and civilians alike must internalise the idea that such abuses will be punished as criminal acts. Both male and female police officers often lack basic understanding of the particular nature of crimes committed against women.
- Effective responses to gender-based violence have been developed around the world in recent years. These usually take the form of new operating procedures – for instance, mandates to arrest perpetrators upon reasonable suspicion or helping to medical assistance to victims. Particularly significant are the new dedicated police units established to address crimes against women.
- Very low numbers of female representation in police forces reflects the fact that police work is still viewed as ‘male’ around the world. Retention of female officers is a related problem. Australia, where the police force is 29.9 percent female, and South Africa, at 29 percent, are world leaders in this respect, but the numbers in developing countries are significantly lower.
- GSPR works best when women themselves hold their police forces to account, especially by participating in the relevant oversight mechanisms. Bodies such as police review boards, national human rights commissions, community-police liaison committees and international organisations have assisted this process.
GSPR is new both in theory and in practice, so there is still much to learn. This briefing makes four recommendations for carrying out GSPR efforts in post-conflict situations:
- Mandate change to require police forces to respond appropriately to crimes perpetrated against women
- Implement new operating practices, incentive structures and monitoring and evaluation methods to encourage new forms of police work that are sensitive to women’s needs
- Recruit women aggressively into police forces and devise means of retaining and rewarding them
- Engage women in systems of accountability and oversight, so that their concerns can be brought directly to police forces.