Freedom through Association: Assessing the Contributions of to Gender-Sensitive Police Reform in West Africa

Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Author: 
DCAF
Countries: 
Africa
Western Africa
Liberia
Sierra Leone
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Security sector reform (SSR) is a key element in the state-building process. SSR traditionally focuses on re-equipping and re-training security sector institutions, changing policies and practices, and creating oversight mechanisms in contexts emerging from conflict or oppressive regimes. Little focus is placed on changing the culture within the security sector in favour of inclusivity and rights for women and minorities. Moreover, little attention is paid to what internal actors can do to ensure that this type of progress occurs. This is changing. A small body of literature exists on the role that police associations for minority and female police officers can play in changing the culture of policing. Situated within the security sector and therefore enjoying the support of police staff associations, female police associations are well placed to take concrete steps toward achieving women and minority rights. This study explores what women are doing in police services to change the nature of their work in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana. It reveals that, while female police staff associations are not overtly contributing to security sector reform, they are contributing to changing the culture of policing and assisting female officers assert themselves within the service. The supporting role the associations' play — while not explicit — provides female officers with the means to challenge the system. Support networks, regular meetings and burden sharing through welfare activities builds confidence among female police in the face of negative stereotypes and traditional gender roles that can hinder a woman's advancement in non-traditional professions. Female police associations have the capacity to do more concrete work – for example, launching mentorship programs for junior female officers and engaging in sectoral reform monitoring efforts. Moreover, female associations have solid perspectives on what needs to be changed within the policing system that directly disadvantages women. Encouragingly, all three associations of female police studied have the ability to further the SSR process, have a concerted interest in improving their services and broadening their membership base, and have the drive to do so. Key policy recommendations of our research for female police associations, police services and other key stakeholders to improve the contributions of female police associations to changing the culture and effectiveness of security sector reform are:

  • Creating partnerships with female associations in the broader security sector to improve training, knowledge-sharing, advocacy, and sectoral monitoring and reform efforts;
  • Actively combating barriers for women by supporting public and internal education campaigns; and
  • Listening to input from female police associations about security sector policies that could affect women and addressing the many complaints from women officers in the service in a transparent and meaningful manner.


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Freedom through Association: Assessing the Contributions of to Gender-Sensitive Police Reform in West Africa