Breaking the Brass Ceiling: Policewomen Around the World

   •    May 13, 2014

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This week, tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world will gather in Washington, DC to celebrate National Police Week.

Women are climbing the ranks of police forces in a myriad of ways and sometimes in unexpected places. Whether they’re countering terrorism in Pakistan, reducing corruption in Peru, or keeping the peace at local protests and in faraway UN missions alike, policewomen are a potent, if underrepresented, force for law and order.

Here’s a look at how women are represented among security forces around the world, brought to you by the Institute for Inclusive Security, which is working to revolutionize who makes the decisions about war and peace.
Iraqi police recruits learn to disassemble AK-47s in basic training

In Iraq, policewomen are staffing checkpoints and saving lives. Here, Iraqi police recruits learn to disassemble AK-47s in basic training at the Iraqi Police Academy in Karbala. Previously, only lower ranks were open to female police, who conducted jobs such as directing traffic or searching women at checkpoints. In 2009, this prohibition was lifted and the first class of women advanced through elite officer training. (Photo: MC1 Wendy Wynam/Wikimedia Commons)


In Poland, policewomen are better educated, but less frequently promoted. Women like these mounted officers have been part of Poland’s police force since 1925 and now make up about 15 percent of it. Though Polish policewomen are better educated overall than their male colleagues, very few have been promoted to the ranks of commissioned officers or heads of units. (Photo: włodi/Flickr Commons)


In Pakistan, more female recruits can combat terrorism and extremism. Here, Pakistani policewomen receive training from the US Embassy in Islamabad. Though research shows that increasing recruitment and retention of female officers can improve the effectiveness of police actions against violent extremism and terrorism, women make up only 0.89 percent of Pakistan’s total police strength. (Photo: US embassy/Pakistan)


In Liberia, all-female police units are undertaking UN peacekeeping missions. Here, Indian policewomen stand in formation during their deployment as UN peacekeepers in Liberia. Since 2007, India has sent annual rotations of all-female police units to help restore peace and security to the formerly war-torn country. Globally, women now make up about 10 percent of police personnel in UN peacekeeping missions.


In Afghanistan, a majority of citizens favor more female police. Here, a student attends Afghanistan’s first all-female Officer Candidate School course at Kabul Police Academy. Though a 2011 poll sponsored by the UN Development Programme found that 53 percent of Afghans are in favor of having female police officers in their communities, women make up less than 1 percent of the national police force. (Photo: NATO Training Military-Afghanistan/Flickr Commons)

Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, female police officers are climbing the ranks. Here, a woman stands with her male-dominated recruit class, ready for police training. Just this year, the country announced its first promotion of a female officer to the rank of chief superintendent. (Photo: DFAT Photo Library/Flickr Commons)


In Australia, women make up 22 percent of the federal police force. Here, a policewoman in New South Wales, Australia, handles crowd control at a protest. Australia’s first policewoman, Lillian May Armfield, was appointed as a special constable in 1915. By 2011, about 22 percent of the Federal Police were women. (Photo: Kate Ausburn/Flickr Commons)


In Ghana, policewomen are leading the fight against human trafficking. Here, female officers prepare for a riot control exercise in Accra, Ghana. The Ghana Police Service has one of the highest proportions of women in West African police forces, with an estimated 20 percent as of 2007. This includes a female-led Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, which has rescued hundreds of victims — including children — from exploitation. (Photo: Courtest/Kapital971)


In the United States, women have served in law enforcement since 1893. Here, a New York Police Department officer stands guard at a protest in Union Square. The first policewoman in the United States was Marie Owens, who joined the Chicago Police Department in 1891. She focused primarily on enforcing child labor laws. Today, there are more than 6,000 females among the 35,000+ uniformed officers of the NYPD, the nation’s largest police force. (Photo: Getty Images)

In India, all-women police stations tackle gender-based violence. Here, a sign identifies an all-women police station in Tamil Nadu, India — one of more than 400 throughout the country run exclusively by female police officers. A 2004 study showed that these stations have resulted in a 23 percent increase in reporting of violence against women and children, as well as a higher conviction rate. (Photo: Bryce Edwards/Flickr Commons)

In Peru, policewomen are reducing corruption on the streets of Lima. Here, a Peruvian policewoman poses by a wall in full uniform. Women were recruited into the Peruvian National Police beginning in 1992 and now comprise approximately 11 percent of the force. The PNP has particularly made efforts to recruit women as traffic officers in a bid to reduce rampant street-level corruption. (Photo: Thomas Quine/Flickr Commons)

In the Soloman Islands, a female-led police force maintains order after conflict. Here, members of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force march down the main street of Honiara, the capital city, on International Women’s Day in 2010. Since 2013, the RSIPF has been headed by its first female police commissioner, Juanita Matanga, who oversees more than 1,000 officers in the previously war-torn country. (Photo: Australian Civil-Military Centre/Flickr Commons)

Kristin Williams is Senior Writer and Program Officer at The Institute for Inclusive Security, where she calls attention to the most powerful, untapped resource for peace: women.

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