The fight for indiscriminate treatment at societal and institutional level remains a continuous struggle
Cairns — This beautiful resort town in north-eastern Australia on the Pacific Ocean is currently hosting a unique gathering of over 500 female police officers — drawn from 63 nations. They converged here to participate in the 17th International Women and Law Enforcement Conference (IWLEC) that got underway Monday morning with a beautiful spectacle; a Parade of Nations. As the clock struck 8, dozens of national flags went up in the air and delegations from across the Asia-Pacific region — all dressed in their respective national uniforms — made a beeline to follow their flag-bearer through the quiet streets of Cairns. Bemused locals as well as tourists looked on as the foreign female officers marched past.
The marchers included about a dozen Pakistani women police officers of different cadres, dressed in their police and para-military fatigues. After meandering through the streets for about two kilometres the spectacular parade culminated at the grand Cairns Convention Centre, the venue of the conference.
During the various sessions in the last two days, local guest speakers, including senior police officials, picked on themes such as women role in peace and security in an international context, benefits of gender responsive policing, gender imbalance, social and political discrimination within the institution, response to offence against women, mainstreaming of women voices against excesses through effective women policing.
The inaugural ceremony was an amazing display of humour, serious talk, human and animal rights and a bit of inspirational music — all rolled into one strong message i.e. empowered women can do wonders if given opportunity.
Equal opportunity is what also seems to drive the present day Australia; women make some 40 percent of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) force too. Women presence is visible wherever you go. One indicator for this recognition was the annual awards for best officers; the dominant majority went to women officers in a grand ceremony accompanying the official dinner.
The fight for indiscriminate treatment at societal and institutional level remains a continuous struggle, as underlined by Margaret Shorter, President of the International Association of Police.
We must continue our conscious efforts to promote female participation in all spheres of governance, she underlined. She said such global gatherings offered a great opportunity for sharing experiences and could help women officers in playing a critical role in community safety in difficult times.
In a display of passion and professionalism, Christine Anno, the famed Australian pop singer and actress, enthused the 1000 plus gathering with her passionate , “My island home, surrounded by sea.”
On the other hand, Terry Irwin, the patron of the conference and wife of the great Australian crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, using the example of a US jail inmate survey to draw an analogy between animal rights protection and need for safeguarding human life.
“100 per cent of inmates in a US jail had first committed a crime against animals before doing so against a human beings,” Ms Irvin said while underscoring the need to sensitize human beings for protecting animals.
Another resounding message came from Debb Platz, President of Australsian Council of Women and Policing; absence of women perpetuates their absence, so women must try to be as present as possible and make their presence purposeful wherever they are. Change also requires courageous decisions and actions without care for fear or favour, argued Ms Platz.
With women police officers from the entire Asia Pacific region, the gathering here, much of the focus is on how the delegates can benefit from one another’s experiences, particularly to deal with issues arising out of the war against terrorism and the emergence of new terror franchises such as DAESH. Discussions on community policing and protecting women’s rights in the new security environment are also part of the four-day conference.
On Tuesday, keynote speakers pointed out the shortcomings of the present day policing, which they said rested on a deeply entrenched system that is driven more by a reactive approach instead of specific, informed responses. This system needs to change if gender-sensitive policing were the ultimate goal.
One of the sessions also dealt with the role of women in the Pakistani police and the society at large as well as the social, institutional and political impediments in their way. Pakistani speakers including Ms Gulmina Bilal, tried to explain the difficult socio-political context that women wade through while living and working in Pakistan.