March 8 is being celebrated as International Women’s Day. It has been conclusively proven human development takes place only in those countries where women have been made equal partners in planning, budgeting and implementation of diverse schemes. India, too, has been influenced by this. Many states have made reservations for women in local government, police and government departments. Slowly, the number of women and their visibility are increasing. The police department, too, has been a beneficiary of this trend. Within the police, women, who initially focused on issues related only to women and children, are now taking on investigation of serious offences. Many have investigated sensitive cases, withstood the gruelling cross examination of defence advocates, and secured convictions. Yet, their plight needs a comprehensive intervention.
A recent study undertaken by the Centre for Police Research (CPR), Pune, shows women in police do not find the police department to be gender-friendly. The study, which spanned urban and rural police stations of Maharashtra, analysed the responses of women police officers on four counts — work environment, gender respect, gender equality, and cooperation.
Women police officers have predictably lamented the lack of basic facilities like toilets, changing rooms and restrooms in police stations. They have mentioned the lack of respect from male colleagues as a strong de-motivator. Being assigned only specific duties has limited their horizons and hindered their professional growth. But the police station culture is yet to appreciate this need for growth and is comfortable in assigning them “soft” postings and routine tasks like reception desks, wireless or computer duties.
A heartening feature of the study is that about 50 per cent of the women officers appreciate the cooperation they get from their male colleagues. It appears that the number of colleagues/ batchmates, as against seniors and juniors, ready to cooperate is increasing.
According to the study, officers admit attitudinal changes are needed much more than short training courses. They understand that both the physical and the cultural atmosphere of a police station need a drastic overhaul. Many senior officers opined that an increase in the number of women officers will prove to be the tipping point. As a society, should we wait for that “point” or take concrete steps to tip the scale? We expect the police to help women in distress, but are they responding to their own in uniform?
Officers also talked about the need to develop their own leadership skills. This is indeed a very good sign and shows they take their careers seriously, and are ambitious. For their part, the government and police leadership need to earmark a separate budget for basic infrastructure for women in the police. For one, work shifts need to be 8 hours instead of 12. Moreover, society still expects them to be homemakers, a conflict that creates tremendous stress for them. That’s why society must be sensitive to their needs. For instance, maternity leave should be for a minimum six months.
Other measures include a two-year childcare leave once in a career, special uniform during pregnancy, restrictions on night duties, provision of housing near the place of posting when children are young. Additionally, the recommendations of the seventh national conference of the Bureau of Police Research and Development, held in January, need urgent implementation.
Society as well as the police leadership have accepted that women in the police have a significant role. Field-level officers are expected to follow suit and create a gender-friendly atmosphere. There’s a time lag in the message reaching the ranks. Therefore, the CPR study has concluded there’s a lack of gender friendliness at police stations for women in uniform. If women in distress approach police stations to get justice and are expected to be well attended to, the first step is to ensure that the basic issues of the women in uniform are addressed.