Why we need more women cops

Inclusive police force is fundamental to effective policing particularly at times when crimes against women are at unprecedented rise
Why we need more women cops
Police personnel at the civil secretariat.GK File photo


Violence against women is a serious human rights issue. India remains one of the poor performers in addressing high school dropout rate of girls, gender based violence at workplace, gender disparity, gender based crimes, and sexual abuse. One of the major reasons being the dismal low rate of ‘Women in Policing’.

It's a paradox that while crimes against women are on rise every year, yet the percentage of women in policing remains abysmally low at just over 7% of the total strength of the police department, far from satisfactory to effectively deal with women related crimes.

According to National Crime Record Bureau data, the rate of crimes against women has risen by 7.3% in 2019, as compared to 2018. An average of 87 rape cases were recorded every single day in India, in 2019. Many cases often go unreported owing to inaccessibility of women officers, besides the insensitivity perpetrated by male officials who lack sensitisation on such cases.

Statewise, Jammu and Kashmir which is on a sharp rise in incidents of violence and crimes against women, has the worst share of women in police at 3.31%. Official data reveals that until March 2019, 1046 rape cases under trial, of which 831 are pending since 2014 in J&K. With more than 3000 cases of atrocities against women being registered by police everywhere, there is a worrying trend of consistent rise in such cases every next year.

It’s to be noted that indifferent behaviour of a conservative society, restricted mobility of women and girls, lack of voice and agency, collective silence owing to social stigma, lack of awareness, absence of women-centric policing, coercive discourses around policing system, masculine outlook of police force are some of the obvious reasons behind the increasing trend which jeopardises the rule of law and safeguard of fundamental rights of women is compromised.

Need for an inclusive policing system

● Legitimacy and effectiveness of law enforcement is paramount when it reflects the society it serves, making gender inclusiveness a core necessity of ‘strategic policing.’

● Women for women creates a conducive environment for accessibility of police stations, conducive work atmosphere and increased reporting of gender based crimes.

● Inclusive recruitment policy is an important component of a gender - responsive justice system. Increased presence of women colleagues is likely to create an attitudinal shift in the male police personnel making sensitisation towards crimes against women comparatively easy.

● Feminine policing style which is internationally acknowledged bears less reliance on physical force and more on communication skills and persuasion. It’s likely to focus on ‘containment and control’ and less likely to exacerbate into uncontrolled situations .

● Displaying humane policing is even more essential when crimes are constantly evolving. Women cops in this regard are likely to be compassionate and garner more public support. This is important to take on unconventional crimes.

● Widespread women representation is fundamental to materialise the idea of ‘community policing’ which is a success in western countries.

● Social outreach of successful women cops shall bridge the gap between local women and law enforcement agencies which would reflect into increased reporting of the incidents of crime and supremacy of rule of law.

Impetus required

The Home Ministry has set 33% as the target for women’s representation in the police. Both State and Central governments must work in collaboration to meet the target in a time bound manner. Inclusive police force is fundamental to effective policing particularly at times when crimes against women are at unprecedented rise. Combating crime is more than about physical strength. It demands analytical skills and comprehensive investigative practices. Restricting women’s quota to entry levels for selected posts particularly at the bottom of the ladder impacts the entry of intelligent brains in the force. This not only shrinks the potential pool of women recruits but also reduces the proportion of women likely to get promoted to leadership and supervisory positions. Women are most prominent in the most junior ranks in a male dominated police force creating social acceptance problems. The pull for women at executive posts in police has to come from higher ranks within the department itself such as SPs, DIGs endorsing affirmative action policies by the State Governments in this regard.

While we talk about Police Reforms, it has to be seen in sync with institutional reforms facilitating infrastructure development for women cops which makes policing a viable career option for them. Effective utilisation of funds under the Modernisation of State Police Forces Scheme can help in this regard. Providing a safe work environment to women cops remains a key challenge. Operationalisation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013 in its letter and spirit is much needed to ensure safe working spaces.

It's equally important that integration of women in force is met with ‘equity and equal partnership’. It’s essential that women officers are given the required space and due by their seniors to take on public order, investigative crimes and realise their full potential particularly in sexual violence cases. Inspirational stories of successful women officers cracking crime cases need to be brought into public domain to instil sense of faith, build-up the confidence and trust of the public in general and women in particular. It will inspire young girls into the profession creating a cascading effect which is much desired.

While women have considerable, though not desired representation in various fields of human enterprise, the abysmally low presence of women cops in police department where it is much needed deserves immediate attention of policy makers in Jammu and Kashmir. The taboos, the stereotypes need to be relegated to irrelevance and through a well thought out affirmative action ration of women cops in law enforcement system needs to be enhanced to a level which is desired for a healthy society based on justice and equality. No system can claim to be just and equitable if women who constitute half of the population feel it otherwise. That is the scenario as of now and it must disturb the people at helm and society in general. The tall claims of moral superiority through exhibition of religiosity without any appreciation of true sprit of religion are hollow and hoax. In view of recent Portico-administrative developments in Jammu and Kashmir it is expected that a truly representative police force shall be constituted giving space to women to work as is prevalent in advanced societies of country and world. We can not deny justice and opportunity to women any more, not at least in twenty first century in an era of information and technological supremacy.

It’s high time that we understand the increasing role of women in policing. Unless sufficient structural and institutional reforms are taken to provide them with the opportunity to become the ‘agents of change’ we may not be able to overcome with ease the challenges vis-à-vis deep rooted patriarchy in law enforcement agencies. Women in policing is a step in the right direction to provide voice and agency to women changing gender disparity into gender justice which is a prerequisite for an inclusive just society.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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