The United Nations’ Top Police Official on the Global Effort to Recruit More Female Police


UN Photo/Tim McKulka
In 2006, the United Nations Mission in Sudan helped train 493 new Sudanese police officers, 69 of whom were women.

In 2000 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325. This milestone resolution placed women’s equal right to participate in peacekeeping on the agenda of international peace and security. Sustainable peace is better assured through the participation of women in peacekeeping and by addressing the differential impact of conflict on women, men, girls, and boys.

In recent years, the demand for UN police peacekeeping has increased dramatically and has become significantly more complex. During the 1990s, the traditional police role of monitoring and reporting evolved into advising and training functions as the UN began to help host countries restructure and reform their police services to meet democratic policing and human rights standards. In some instances UN Police were mandated to provide interim police services and law enforcement.

The UN Police must integrate gender perspectives into operational responses in order to effectively meet the challenges facing post-conflict communities. That is why I have made gender issues a priority in my time as UN Police Adviser.

In August 2009 the United Nations Police Division launched a major initiative called the “Global Effort.” The initiative is the first of its kind within UN policing and aims to increase the representation of women across all ranks, including senior leadership, to at least 20 percent by 2014. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon fully endorsed this initiative in June of last year.

The Global Effort is, most importantly, a call for action. It aims to engage with two target groups: first, countries contributing police officers to UN peacekeeping, known as police-contributing countries (PCCs), and, second, female police officers worldwide. The Global Effort strongly encourages police-contributing countries to do the following:

  • Nominate more female candidates to serve in peacekeeping and establish a minimum ratio of women to men in their national services
  • Review their recruitment requirements and procedures for international deployment to ensure that female candidates are not unduly restricted from applying
  • Consider providing incentives for officers who serve in peacekeeping missions

The composition of UN police missions must reflect the communities they serve in order to address the security needs of the people. There is no society in which men make up 93 percent of the population and women only seven percent. Yet this was precisely the composition of UN deployed officers when the Global Effort was launched. Since then, over 500 female police officers have joined peacekeeping and, by November 2010, almost 10 percent of the 14,061 police peacekeepers worldwide were women. This change demonstrates that we are making remarkable progress and are well on our way to reaching our goal.

Pers_Orler_Figure2.jpg

UN Photo/Martine Perret
Pranee Inseawong (left), a United Nations police community officer, visits internally displaced persons living in the Jardim Camp in Timor-Leste in 2007.

When I was a police commissioner in Sweden, I would insist on including female candidates in all selection processes. It is critical that we get beyond the excuse that “there are no female police officers” or that “there are too few of them.” Instead, UN Police will have to work with contributing countries to identify female police officers and to get them on the list for international police peacekeeping. In order to succeed, more thought will have to go into how we can empower more female police officers to join peacekeeping.

Clearly, obstacles and challenges remain. Each police component in the UN field missions now has a gender officer who identifies and monitors these challenges. Gender officers help ensure that the needs of women and men are adequately addressed. Some have created a network of female police peacekeepers within their missions to empower women. The UN hopes to collaborate with member states in this process in order to identify female police associations in member countries that can be connected to a UN global network. This network would provide a forum for female police peacekeepers worldwide—both those still serving and those who have returned home—to share their experiences through a series of online and in-person briefings and events.

In many countries, the capacity of female police officers is also an obstacle. Large numbers of men and women fail United Nations Selection Assistance Team (SAT) tests. The UN is working with member states to improve pre-SAT training in driving, firearms, and language skills and thereby increase female police officers’ chances of qualifying for deployment. Efforts to increase the share of women in UN Police components can backfire unless these officers have the necessary skills and are properly prepared. It is important to avoid having female police officers segregated into administrative positions or restricted to specialized police units based on gender.

In general, the participation of women in police peacekeeping will be greatly helped simply by our telling their positive and inspiring stories and building awareness of their contributions to peacekeeping missions. The UN has organized a number of roundtable events featuring female police officers and has increased representation of their work in the UN Police Magazine. The UN also launched a Facebook page on the Global Effort initiative in order to gather and share information about the impact that female police officers have on the places they serve.

Pers_Orler_Figure3.jpg

UN Photo/Martine Perret
Female United Nations police officers with the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste in 2007.

The UN Police need more women for several reasons. First, women’s participation in policing at both international and national levels is essential to ensuring that police services reflect women’s security priorities and respond to the needs of female victims. Female police peacekeepers empower the female population to report cases of sexual and gender-based crimes. They also act as role models, inspiring women to become police officers themselves. For women in societies recovering from conflict, female UN police officers demonstrate that women have a role to play in national security and can protect and serve the population in some of the most demanding environments. Female police officers help build trust and confidence in the police, especially within the female population.

Second, female police officers bring a diverse set of policing skills. For example, in the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) a mixed female and male police unit from Nigeria sent its female officers to calm the crowds. In Nigeria, it is well-known that the presence of female police officers helps dissipate tension. In the same peacekeeping mission, the all-female Indian police unit has become a role model for professionally conducting public order management and other security-related operations. These UN forces have inspired many Liberian women to join their national police. When female police officers undertake these tasks and responsibilities at the same level as men, they demonstrate the capabilities of women as a whole.

In Sudan and Burundi, female UN police peacekeepers ran sensitization sessions regarding sexual and gender-based violence. These sessions led to better awareness of these acts as crimes. As a result, Sudanese tribal leaders have become more receptive to these issues and have supported the creation of several specialized police desks that deal exclusively with sexual and gender-based crimes. The camps for internally displaced persons in South Sudan particularly benefited, as such desks were established throughout 2008 and 2009 as part of a community-oriented policing project. In Burundi, female police officers from the Burundi National Police (BNP) said that the work of female police peacekeepers has been important in sensitizing the BNP about violence against women and has had an impact in changing the popular mindset. Violence against women that was once tolerated by society is not anymore.

The global message of the UN Police is empowerment. Women’s participation in police peacekeeping empowers the communities to restore peace and security and to reconstruct not only their police services, but also their societies. It is a process that benefits both women and men.

Pers_Orler_Figure4.jpg

UN Photo/Paul Banks
Recruits for the Southern Sudan Police Service in Rajaf, South Sudan in 2010.

Small things can have a great impact. For example, we use the term police service instead of police force. Only five percent of policing tasks involve the use of force. The role of the police is to work for the people. Our terminology sends the message that police serve their communities in many ways that do not involve the use of force. This message is essential to improving public perceptions of the police.

Communities devastated by conflict see many visitors come and go, writing countless reports and recommendations. Yet the survivors of violence are often left with no recourse. To succeed in international police peacekeeping, the UN will have to make an impact on these communities. It is imperative that we address injustices and foster real change. This work may be difficult, but it is not impossible. It is essential that we try.

This is why, beyond the reports and recommendations, the UN Police are focusing on professionalization and capacity-building among their police peacekeepers. The UN Police are designing a “United Nations Police Standardized Best Practices Toolkit on Gender and International Police Peacekeeping.” This collection will instruct UN Police officers in proven practices for training, mentoring, and supporting host-state police on gender issues. The UN is also developing a standardized police training curriculum on investigating and preventing sexual and gender-based violence. This generic training curriculum will supply UN police officers with the required knowledge and skills to manage cases of sexual and gender-based violence throughout the process of investigation, prosecution, and trial.

In 2010, as we commemorated the tenth anniversary of the passage of Security Council Resolution 1325, we found many advances to celebrate. These advances are significant, but as yet insufficient. My own appointment signals that change; I am only the second female to hold the highest UN Police position: Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division. While in this position, I intend to ensure that gender sensitivity remains at the core of police peacekeeping and that the composition of the UN Police Division moves closer to gender parity.