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Recruitment policies and measures

Last edited: December 29, 2011

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  • Establish strategic targets and/or quotas for female recruitment or representation. The Beijing Platform of Action advocates a target of 30% female representation in leadership and decision-making positions. In 2009, the United Nations launched the Global Effort Initiative, with a target for women to comprise 20% of all United Nations Police by 2014, and advocating for Member States to contribute female and male officers in line with the national gender ratio. As of November 2011, women comprised 10% of United Nations Police, 4% of military advisors, and 2.5% of peacekeeping troops (DPKO, 2011). A number of countries have established quotas for the representation of women in the police including Liberia, which instituted a 20% quota for female officers in 2006 and has been making progress towards achieving this. In Kosovo, where women were absent from the police, the introduction of a mandatory quota after the war led to a dramatic increase to 18% by 2007 (UNIFEM and UNDP, 2007). Institutional quotas can be established through national action plans or strategies or integrated within legislative amendments, with parliamentarians having a particularly key role in both proposing and monitoring compliance on such changes.

  • Undertake public recruitment campaigns targeted at women (particularly young women) in order to change the perception that police and armed service work is for men. This can involve developing gender-sensitive materials, brochures and posters depicting both male and female uniformed personnel carrying out various tasks; or distributing information on job opportunities in public places where women congregate. Raising public awareness and visibility of women in high-profile security positions can provide inspiration and encouragement to others. The presence of an all-female contingent of Indian United Nations Police has advanced Liberian efforts to increase women’s representation in the Liberian National Police, and has motivated a growing number of all-female UN police units deployed since 2007 (Bangladeshi in Haiti; Samoan in Timor-Leste; and Rwandese, specifically mandated to work on violence against women in Sudan (Darfur)).

  • Revise screening practices to demonstrate commitment to zero tolerance. Standard background screening for all police and military recruits should include previous perpetration of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and child abuse, as part of the criminal record review. Where gender-based violence is not legally recognized as a crime or under-reporting is severe, institutions could consider raising the issue explicitly during the interview process to ensure selected candidates have not perpetrated or tolerate gender-based violence (IACP, 2011).

  • Reform recruitment criteria, which may explicitly or implicitly exclude women. For example, some police services specify height or physical exercise criteria, which exclude a large proportion of women. Criteria should be reviewed and adapted as needed to enable both women and men to objectively qualify for recruitment.

  • Offer specific educational support and pre-recruitment training for women. This might include additional training to support women to meet the recruitment criteria for police training programmes or scholarships for women graduates to train to be officers.

  • Ensure that women will be able to attend police and military training courses. For example, in settings where women are not permitted to travel without male family members, training courses should be conducted in non-residential or local facilities accessible by women through affordable and safe public transportation. Timing and duration of training courses should also consider and offer flexible arrangements to allow women and other recruits with particular family obligations to fully participate and benefit from the training.

(Denham, 2008; UNIFEM, 2007)

Promising practice: A comprehensive approach to increasing women’s representation in the Liberian National Police

During 14 years of war, a quarter of a million Liberians were killed and an estimated 40 percent of Liberian women were raped. Women were abused, not only by Liberian men, but also by United Nations peacekeepers. To address the high rate of sexual violence, the UN Police deployed its first all-female Formed Police Unit to Liberia. Arriving from India in 2007, the unit made a substantial contribution to efforts addressing sexual violence against women and the quality of the UN Police response to women who had been victimized.

Alongside the increased visibility of female UN Police present in the country, which inspired Liberian women to join the national police service (Liberian National Police), in 2006, the Liberian Government established a 15% female representation quota for the reformed and restructured Liberian National Police, which was increased to 20% in 2008. To advance progress on the quota, a Committee for National Recruitment of Women involving relevant ministries of the government, in collaboration with representatives from the United Nations Mission and several agencies, developed a three-month intensive education support programme for women aged 18 - 35 interested in joining the National Police. The Programme enabled more women to meet the basic education requirements, which had been identified as barrier for many women pursuing recruitment into the police (UNMIL, 2007).

The programme initially identified 300 candidates who completed an aptitude test. A selected 150 candidates received three months of intensive classes resulting in the equivalent to a high school certificate at the Stella Maris Polytechnic in Monrovia, which covered educational materials, a daily lunch and a small monthly stipend. The curriculum was developed by the Ministry of Education and the West Africa Examinations Council, and was followed by a special examination to identify women who were qualified to enroll into the 3-month national police training process. Prior to starting the intensive course, candidates agreed to remain in the police force for a minimum of five years. To retain and promote qualified women within the police and ensure they are not constrained to lower ranks, women have been placed in leadership roles across the police hierarchy and an association of women police officers provides support as well as an institutional body to continue advocacy for women’s advancement in the sector. The programme contributed to increasing female recruits, from an average of 4 recruits in the first 30 educational support classes to over 100 by 2009. Related to this achievement, the percentage of women in the police rose from 13% in 2008 to 17% in 2010.

The broader achievements of these efforts are highlighted in a video on women in the Liberian National Police.

Sources:  Bastick, M., Grimm, K., and Kunz, R., (2007), ‘Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict: Global Overview and Implications for the Security Sector’, Geneva: DCAF; UNMIL (2007), Liberia Gains From Partners’ Forum - No Sex For Help - All-female Police Contingent Arrives UNMIL FOCUS, Dec 2006 - Feb 2007; IRIN News, May 2010. UN Peacekeeping Background Note 2010; UN News Centre, 2007 In first for UN peacekeeping, all-female police unit arrives in Liberia.


  • Review the adequacy of uniforms, equipment and barrack facilities for both women and men. For example, uniforms and equipment should be appropriate for staff of varying sizes and physical conditions, including pregnancy. Police or military facilities should ensuring separate toilet, changing and residential facilities for women and men. 

  • Implement initiatives to change the institutional culture. The dominant culture within security institutions – especially within the military - often enforces particular perspectives of ‘masculine’ values and behaviours, reinforcing women’s lower status and perpetuating discrimination against them. The male-dominated culture is often reinforced in the recruitment process, during training and in the workplace in general. This marginalizes female recruits and staff within these institutions and may dissuade women from joining or staying in uniformed personnel positions. It is essential to raise awareness of the discriminatory impacts of such attitudes and behaviour and promote alternative values and strategies. For example, respect for diversity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age and other factors should be communicated clearly as a core organizational value within pre-service training and ongoing professional development efforts.

Example: The challenges of recruiting women for the Afghan National Police

Efforts to recruit women, who had minimal representation in the police under the Taliban, into the Afghan National Police since 2002, illustrate the advancements and challenges of recruitment efforts in conflict and post-conflict settings. Measures supported include:

  • A recruitment drive including educational programmes targeting women across provinces, initiated in 2003 by the Kabul Police Academy and a German policing project.

  • Establishment of a women-only dormitory at the Police Academy in Kabul.

  • Training for women to enter middle police ranks was instituted in Kabul and the provinces.

  • Production of films / programmes to improve the social acceptance of female police officers, such as the German Cooperation Agency-supported fictional film Qanoon, featuring a female Afghan police officer as a role model.

  • Placement of a gender advisor in the Afghan Ministry of the Interior since 2007 (with Canadian support) and the organization of the First International Islamic Police Women Conference in 2007 to raise awareness and provide female police with role models.

In 2007, there were approximately 230 female police out of around 62,000 police in total, which increased to approximately 500 by 2010. In 2010, the Afghan President mandated that 5,000 women officers should be added to the police force by 2014. Lessons from the experience suggest that:

  • Recruitment strategies should be complemented by specific activities to counter any negative security risks to women. While female police are generally well-accepted within the Afghan National Police itself, recruiting women is still a major challenge given the security threats faced by female personnel (such as the targeted September 2008 assassination of a senior female officer in Malalai Kakar)

  • Efforts to address social barriers should cover both women’s rights to serve as uniformed personnel and broader norms around masculinity and gender roles. The perception that women in police positions is a threat to the masculinity of their male family members can create family pressure that prevents or dissuades women from pursuing a career in the police and is a implicit additional barrier to recruitment efforts. Institutionally, women’s promotion and acceptance into leadership positions is often regarded negatively by male colleagues, which also needs to be addressed by institutional and national leadership.

Sources: Murray, 2006; Interview with Hirbod Aminlari, Principal Advisor for the Promotion of the Rule of Law, GTZ, Afghanistan, 24th October 2008; International Crisis Group, Reforming Afghanistan’s Police. Asia Report 138, Kabul/Brussels, 2007; BBC “Top Afghan Policewoman shot dead”, 28/09/2008.


Examples of Police Reform Programmes:

Promising practice: Making the Nicaraguan Police Force “Women-friendly  

In Nicaragua, reform of the National Police Force in the 1990s following pressure from the Nicaraguan women’s movement and female police demonstrates the benefits of initiatives to mainstream gender and increase the participation of women. Supported by the German development organisation GIZ, specific initiatives were undertaken to make the police service more gender-sensitive and responsive to gender-based violence including:

  • Training on violence against women within police academies for new recruits

  • Measures to transform the gender values and attitudes of police officers

  • Reform of recruitment criteria including female-specific physical training and the adaptation of height and physical exercise requirements for women

  • Policies to enable police officers to balance their work with their family life and responsibilities

  • Establishment of a Consejo Consultivo de Género as a forum for discussion and investigation into the working conditions of female officers – including alleged cases of discrimination and harassment.

  • Establishment of women’s police stations, providing a range of services to women and child survivors of violence, in partnership with civil society organizations

As of 2007, 26% of Nicaraguan police officers were women, among the highest proportion of female officers in the world at the time. Nicaragua’s police service has been recognized for its success addressing sexual violence. The reforms also helped the police gain legitimacy and credibility by the general public; in an ‘image ranking’ of Nicaraguan institutions, the police were placed second.

Source: Bastick, Grimm and Kunz (2007) Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict. DCAF. Geneva.


Sustaining efforts through the Bangladesh Police Reform Programme

The Bangladesh Police Reform Programme initiated in 2001 with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) included a component on human resource management and training. The initiative aimed to set targets for women’s recruitment into the police; ensure more efficient roles for female police; and promote their increased representation in more responsible roles through the following actions:

  • Developing specific strategies (e.g. Women in Policing Strategy; People Strategy Plan)

  • Commencing a female recruitment campaign

  • Creating an action plan to ensure the progressive deployment of female police to every station

  • Establishing the Bangladesh Women Police Officers' network and a 'Women in Policing Conference'

  • Developing and introduce a modular, competency-based phased domestic violence, sexual assault, case management and interviewing techniques training for all female and select male officers

  • Identifying a resource allocation distribution model and assessment of the actual distribution of police versus the needs in communities

  • Reviewing the rationale, number and role of reserve forces in relation to identified core functions

Achievements of the programme relevant to women’s recruitment and addressing gender-based violence have included:

  • Establishment of the Bangladesh Police Women’s Network in November 2008 and adoption of a constitution which sets out the purpose of the network to help female police foster women’s development at national, regional and international levels. The network also aims to contribute to leadership development among female police and has a video and theme song on its work.

  • Release of the first ever Gender Guidelines for the Bangladesh Police (In Bengali) in late 2007, with the aim of “a gender sensitive reorientation in the attitude of police towards women and children so that all people...are treated with dignity and respect”. Committees are being established in each of the 509 thanas across Bangladesh to monitor implementation of the gender guidelines. As of December 2008, 168 gender committees were formed; and orientation and training on implementing the guidelines had been completed in 9 model thanas for 433 police personnel.

  • Launch of the first integrated support center for survivors of violence in Dhaka in February 2009

  • Inclusion of female police and gender sensitization as a strategic area in the 2008-2010 Bangladesh Police strategic plan and second phase of the programme.

  • A trafficking investigations workbook (in English and Bengali) for police to better understand and address the issue, particularly supporting women and child survivors.

Sources: Police Reform Programme - Bangladesh Police Ministry of Home Affairs ; Shamim, I. 2009. Towards Pro-Women and Child-Friendly Policing in Bangladesh: Our Experiences. Centre for Women and Children Studies. Dhaka.