Chapter 05: Justice - Field Stories
Police Reform and Accountability to Women

In early 2007, the Government of India sent over 100 women police officers to Liberia, as the first all-female Formed Police Unit in the United Nation's peacekeeping history. Early reports suggest that their presence in Liberia is encouraging women to engage with the police, both to register their complaints and to join the Liberian police service. In Timor-Leste, the government established Vulnerable Persons Units within the National Police that are responsible for receiving and investigating allegations of gender-based violence. Working closely with women's groups that provide counselling, legal assistance, shelters and judicial escorts, the presence of these Units has led to marked increase in women reporting gender-based violence cases. In Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244), the creation of a gender unit in the Kosovo Police Force helped bring human trafficking and forced prostitution – major problems in post-conflict Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244) – out into the open and made them priority areas for the police.

These are examples of how law enforcement can become more accessible and accountable to women. Having a police force that 'answers to women' means that police personnel recognize that women and men may be affected differently by violence and discrimination, and that specific social roles, behaviours, status, as well as asymmetrical access to power and to resources, may create vulnerabilities or sources of insecurity that are specific to women. To name just one important difference: crimes against men occur predominantly in public areas, while women are often assaulted in private, a realm that some public institutions consider beyond their mandate. In the United States 92 per cent of victims of sexual assault in the workplace are women, while 78 per cent of firearms victims are men. The types of abuse to which women are disproportionately subjected often remain off the agenda of the mainstream media and the security sector.

Increasing the number of women in police forces has been one way of addressing these challenges, though much progress is needed in this area, as shown in Figure A.

Beyond recruitment of women, gender issues must be systematically integrated into all aspects of police training. Training must be reinforced by changes in standard operating procedures, concrete incentives to motivate and reward changed practices, and sanctions for non-compliance. For example, a visible change in operating practices around the world has involved setting up dedicated police units – such as Women's Police Stations, Family Support Units and Women's Desks – in order for female survivors of violence to feel safer registering their complaints and taking steps to prosecution.

In Rwanda, when a distraught mother discovered that her daughter had been repeatedly raped by her guardian, the Gender-based Violence Desk at Rwandan National Police Headquarters provided the help that was desperately needed. Officers, trained in sensitive handling of sexual violence survivors arranged for the girl's free medical treatment, in the course of which evidence was preserved. The case was then sent to the Ministry of Justice to initiate proceedings; the accused was arrested and taken into custody. Referrals to two nongovernmental organizations secured free legal advice to the victim and her family. Court statistics highlight the UNIFEM and UNDP-supported Gender Desk's effectiveness: in 2006, Rwandan Police referred 1,777 rape cases to the prosecution, resulting in 803 convictions. In each case, the Gender Desk helped to investigate and ensure that proper evidence was before the court. According to Deputy Commissioner of Police Mary Gahonzire, this technical support "has facilitated quick reporting and response, and increased awareness among the police and community of gender based violence as a human rights issue."