At 8 years of age, Sadatu Reeves came across photographs of women police officers in a magazine her father brought home from abroad. The empowered images sparked a deep-seated desire to don her own uniform.
She pursued a university degree in criminal justice, graduating in 2004, just after Liberia’s 1989-2003 Civil War. Her family opposed her idea of becoming a police officer, citing low salaries and public mistrust, bred by the violence and rape carried out by some police during the Civil War.
“Even though the reputation of the police was badly tarnished and its morale was very low, I wanted to be part of the new breed of Liberian National Police Force (LNP) officers to help restore the image and pride of the force,” Officer Reeves explained.
UN Women’s support to Liberia’s security sector programme is helping women officers like Sadatu Reeves acquire new skills and to gain the competences needed to take up leadership positions. Photo: UN Women/Winston Daryoue
She was 27 when she joined the LNP in 2004. Today, the newly appointed Assistant Police Director for Administration is the only woman director and one of its three top commissioners.
Rising from just 6 per cent in 2007 to 17 per cent in 2016, there has been a significant increase of women in Liberia’s police force, along with major reforms undertaken by the Armed Forces of Liberia and other agencies. With support from UN Women, more women police officers have been trained and recruited by the government. Efforts to reach 30 per cent of women officers by 2030 are ongoing.
Today, Officer Reeves has become a role model for many: “With the recruitment of more women police officers… we will achieve a great deal of success in building a more inclusive and responsive police force.”
The bigger picture
Across the globe, women are still only a tiny portion of the security sector. As of 2015, reports reveal that 97 per cent of military peacekeepers and 90 per cent of police officers are men.  In 2009, the UN launched a global effort to increase the number of women in police forces, with the goal of reaching 20 per cent of officers in peace operations.
Across Africa, some inroads are being made. In 2010, Rwanda launched its National Action Plan to implement UN Security Council resolution 1325, aiming to increase women’s presence in peace and security at all levels. Before 2009, there were only 50 female police commissioned officers; but by 2012 there were already 137.  In December 2015, Rwanda was the top contributor of female police officers to UN peacekeeping missions, with 114 women; and the third-highest contributor of female military, mission experts and police combined, with 339 women, trailing Ethiopia and South Africa.  With UN Women’s technical and financial support, Rwanda has also improved police officers’ capacity to manage data and strengthen reporting.
In Malawi, with UN Women’s support, former President Joyce Banda launched the Malawi Women Police Network in 2014, to boost women’s presence. UN Women has worked closely with the Malawi Police Service to strengthen gender mainstreaming within the force and held regional trainings on addressing crime and empowering women officers.
In Nigeria, UN Women supported the development and implementation of a gender policy to reduce the gender gap in the Nigeria Police Force and enhance the protection of women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence. UN Women also helped the Police Force develop a human rights curriculum.
Data from 40 countries also show a positive correlation between the number of female police and sexual assault reporting rates.
In Kenya, 34-year-old Officer Lucy Nduati often notices that female survivors prefer to speak to her: “Women have a unique way of policing that is generally based on communications and will be more empathetic in cases reported to them.”
She has encouraged women survivors who chose not to charge abusive husbands to seek justice before the courts, and connected them with counselling. Officer Nduati is Secretary of the Kenya Association of Women in Policing, which UN Women helped establish in 2013.
As part of efforts to implement UNSCR 1325 in Kenya, UN Women has worked with the security sector over the years to help recruit more women, by promoting gender-sensitive reforms, training and organizing conferences. UN Women also advocated for Kenya’s first Prevention against Domestic Violence Act in March 2015.
Kenya’s Constitution now requires the National Police Service and its Commission to increase women in their ranks to 30 per cent. In 2014, the same number of women and men were recruited.
“More women in policing has been seen to result in increased reporting of violence against women, improved intelligence-gathering, better treatment of female witnesses, victims and suspects, as well as fewer complaints of misconduct and improper use of force,” says Pablo Castillo Díaz, Protection Specialist with UN Women’s Peace and Security Department. “It is in the interest of those leading police forces to spare no efforts in better training, stronger accountability, and most importantly, fundamental reforms in how police forces recruit, retain and employ women.”