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Contribution of women police officers to UN missions

Statement by Police Adviser Jon Christian Møller at side-event on Women, Peace and Security, 27 October 2017.

Norwegian police joined MINUSTAH in 2010 and been there since. The only police unit not affected of the UN downsizing in Haiti.

First specialized police team in UN Peace Operations with own funding and pre-selected personnel. The work of the team consisted solely of professionalizing and improving Haitian National Police’s own work on the  Sexual Gender Based Violence (I will continue to refer to as HNP).

It’s a job we did together with the HNP, not for them. Several academic case studies, including my own Masters dissertation, have proven good results, including when it comes to better policing standards. We believe this is the future for UN policing.

Whether, you like it or not, it is a matter of fact that today, most police leaders are men. Especially in Haiti. Therefore, we knew that if we should succeed with the implementing of SGBV as a prioritized crime topic in the country, we needed to bring the male chiefs on board. 

Through SGBV focused leadership seminars and training, we brought together section chiefs and police commissioners with a clear agenda to advocate the topic and its international standards and expectations.

You will not change a country or an organizations culture through some seminars, it might take a generation. Nevertheless, after my own interviews throughout 2015 of a representative selection of police officers from lowest agent to police commissioners, there was not much doubt that our message had been implemented in the whole of Haitian National Police-organization.

One major achievement was when the Director of the National Police Academy, on his own initiative in 2015, decided to include our 5-day SGBV course in all basic training for new officers.

The Norwegian team in Haiti has more or less consisted of 50% female police officers. We have had several female team leaders. This is actually nothing out of the ordinary for this team. Through many years, the Norwegian contribution to International peace operations has consisted of 35-40 % women. Today we are in 5 peace operations and in 4 of them the Contingent Commanders are female.

In Norway’s point of view, we strongly believe in leading by example when it comes to gender inclusion in field missions. Female officers serve as role models, not only for the host nation, but also for other UN colleagues. As everyone here in the room will agree, females are as good police officers as men. It is all about qualifications, not about gender.

(Vice versa, in Haiti it was also important to be good male role models by emphasizing that male police officers also do work on sexual crimes and domestic violence.)

Why Norway are able to provide a high percentage of female UNPOL’s

First of all, we don’t go after recruiting women – we recruit qualified police officers. But since Norway now has a solid base of female officers in the national police, a high female representation happens naturally. That’s the way to go – you have to start in the right end, by improving the base.

40 years ago, female police officers were still a rarity in Norway. But then, like in the rest of the society, structural changes in national policy also reached the male dominated police service.

This was still in the aftermath of the post-war development of our modern welfare state. There was a significant focus on children, women, equality and education.

Paid parental leave and facilitation of work for pregnant women, and an expansion of early child care accessible for all, made it easier for both parents to work. And of course, we also developed a more modern approach to police work the last four decades. Policing is no longer a job only for the toughest guys.

All of the polies mentioned were pretty much in place in the late 80’s. The Police Academy started their campaign to attract more female candidates in the early 90s, and I think it is fair to say that this was strongly pushed by outside political forces. This is what I mean by saying “start in the right end”.

Looking at Haiti as an example, the institutional framework to support females in the work force as police officers is not yet in place. There is no shortage of good looking posters and high school campaigns for recruiting more female officers. But as we heard from many young high school girls, “it’s not an attractive job”. 

As said earlier it is important to increase the base, and to do this you have to start in the right end with institutional changes. Then the girls will come.

I have heard from so many female leaders in field that they really have to work hard to gain respect. As one said, being a male leader in an international, operational environment is much easier. You get respect because of your gender and there is much more room for failure. Being a woman, you must earn every inch of respect. Especially from other cultures where female leadership is seldom.

Therefore I will say that hiring a woman because she is a woman, might do much more harm than good. It is important to hire the best candidate, the one that is the most competent and with a strong operational background. We witnessed this first hand during the war breakout in South-Sudan last summer. Norway had two female UNPOL’s at the ground. Their strong leadership gained them so much respect and credit after the chaos was over. In the middle of the heat they stood tall when other male colleagues ran away.

Examples like this creates strong role models and shows that it’s not about gender, it’s about the competence and qualifications of the personnel.

Related to this, I will also encourage the UN to look at its own criteria’s for recruitment. When I read the strict, mandatory criteria’s for the Senior Leadership Roster, I was surprised to see how many years of senior management experience that is required and how fixed and rigid it is.

Does it really give prove you are a better leader because you have, say 15 compared to 10 years of experience? Shouldn’t it be more about the quality of the candidates and the quality and accomplishments of their leadership experience? I have an extremely intelligent and good leader being deployed to Haiti next year. She only has a few years’ experience at management level, but has still proven by results to be an outstanding leader.

What is the rationale behind her having to wait 10-15 years before she can apply to a UN D-position? And another important question, given that the UN objective to increase female leadership, how many female police officers are there with that many years of management experience in most countries?

I will challenge both the UN and the Member States to look closer into what I consider to be a great obstacle for female recruitment. I am confident that you will find support for my view both in modern leadership theory and from practical examples, where the number of years in leadership is not essential.

As a conclusion, I will emphasize that there is no quick fix solution if you want to have a long-lasting, consistent recruitment of females to peace operations. By looking at my own country as an example, I can only underline the importance of starting in the right end, and that is by increasing the national base of female officers.