“IT is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of two opposing ideals,” said actress Emma Watson in a speech as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.
The latest gender gap report from the World Economic Forum estimates that, keeping in view the current trends, it will be another 217 years before the world achieves gender parity. It goes on to state that even though women worldwide are correcting the gender imbalance in critical areas such as health and education, glaring gaps are still left in economic activities because of women’s nonparticipation. As the world gradually shifts from capitalism to an era of talentism, the inclusion and integration of women in the mainstream becomes all the more important.
However, this paradigm shift faces several obstacles, in particular in areas that have been wracked by conflict, including terrorism, and humanitarian crises. Because the female population of such areas suffers far more than its male counterparts, the exclusion of women seems to be the only choice left to men. But this needn’t always be the case. For instance, there are some conflict areas which have worked out solutions — simply by including women in their law-enforcement and peace-building efforts to address issues of violence. The realisation that women have more ingress both in the community and family has accelerated conflict resolution in these areas.
On the other hand, the inclusion of women in law enforcement especially the police force, is still unsatisfactory even in many progressive countries — at best, they would constitute some 30 per cent of the total police force. In Pakistan, where gender disparity is glaring in most areas of life, this percentage stands at less than 2pc. Given the prevalence of gender-based violence, the lack of equal opportunities for women and their exclusion from economic participation and decision-making, the role of the policewomen becomes critically important. Counterterrorism efforts and uprooting extremism are the other end of the spectrum which demand the inclusion of more women in the police force.
The more people see women in public spaces, the more they get used to it.
Here we must revisit the earlier point made about the shift to an era of talentism. Tapping the potential of half the population in the country remains an uphill task, regardless of social class and ethnicity. The mushrooming of media outlets and the expanding space for the internet has done little to change gender norms: women’s primary role as caretaker of the family remains where it was and continues to be used as a tool to shove them to secondary position. The narrative is, for the most part, male-centric and the twaddle relentless: women cannot handle situations, it is a man’s world, women are emotional, and not pragmatic; and so on and so forth.
However, there are islands of hope. For instance, the Pakistan police for which I work, is trying for more inclusion. Recruitment and retention patterns in the police reveal some fascinating trends. Interestingly, it is observed that when people see more women occupying public spaces, they get more used to it, and the less they see women outside their traditional roles, the less likely is their acceptance of women in these spaces. To put it quite simply, if you want to see more female participation, include more women in the social space.
The second observation is that better representation of women in leadership roles results in including and hiring more women across the board.
The third is that women in police, once trained, are less likely to use excessive force, are better skilled at addressing violence in general and against women and children specifically, and can help improve police-community relations.
The cultural dimension of women in the police is also noteworthy. It is commonly observed that victims of gender-based violence, in fact, women generally, are more open to confiding in policewomen and trusting their investigative skills. Women who approach the law enforcers, see policewomen as more neutral, sympathetic and nonjudgmental in their handling of victims.
The sociological aspect of making public spaces safer for women and implementing women-friendly laws is also important. With more females in the police force to represent them, hear them and help them, women may come to believe that their protection and rights can become an achievable target.
This effectiveness of policewomen in addressing women’s issues, however, should not be taken as a reason to limit their role to policing other women. Tapping the real potential of policewomen in the country will only be possible once all women in the police are mainstreamed and perceived as police officers rather than policewomen. Undoubtedly, women in the police are capable of carrying out and implementing any reform that the people of this country envision for the law-enforcement force.
By: Maria Taimur