Women Police in a Traditional Society: Test of a Western Model of Integration [*]

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

It has been argued that policewomen in traditional societies do not aspire to being fully integrated into mainstream policing, but may prefer a more restricted and segregated role. This thesis is examined in the context of policing in Tamil Nadu, a state of India. The present study uses data gathered through interviews and a standardized questionnaire, and focuses on the preferences expressed by women officers about roles and styles of policing. These preferences are compared with those of women interviewed in earlier research in India and other countries. It is concluded that, while progress to full integration in traditional societies may be slower, it seems to follow the same sequence of stages found in Western societies.

Introduction

WOMEN POLICE are now to be found in many countries and regions of the world, but they still comprise only a small minority of serving officers (Heidensohn 1998; National Center for Women and Policing 1998; Prenzler 1998; Harris 1999; Home 1999). Moreover, studies in many countries show that they have not been fully integrated into policing, as judged by the roles they perform and their career expectations and opportunities. These are all considerably more limited than for men (Martin 1990, 1991; Schulz 1995, 1998).

This lack of integration might be a temporary state of affairs, due simply to the fact that women are relatively recent arrivals in a male-dominated profession. If so, full integration can be expected to occur in time. On the other hand, there might be permanent barriers to full integration, which women are already encountering (Heidensohn 1992). These barriers might derive from several sources. They might be due to the prejudice of male officers who refuse to believe that women can undertake the full complement of police duties. They might be due to wider societal attitudes and beliefs about appropriate roles for women. They might also result from inherent differences between men and women in physical capabilities. Finally, they might be due to the preferences of women officers themselves and their need to find a satisfying police role that is compatible with personal goals and family responsibilities.

Brown's Model of Integration

Whether full integration of women in policing is simply a matter of time or whether it is unachievable is, therefore, still an open question. A recent comparison of women police in European countries by Brown (1997) suggests that women officers gradually become more integrated into the police force, passing through six distinct stages, which she characterizes as "entry," "separated restricted development," "integration," "take-off," "reform' and "tip-over?'

"Entry" of women into policing is often precipitated by some crisis, such as the wholesale conscription of men in Britain during the First World War and the consequent shortage of police recruits. Once admitted to the police, women are "restricted" to dealing with women and children. They then often become enmeshed in a separate career and status structure and get caught in a "crab-basket" (krabbenmand) so that they drag each other back to a restricted role. Paradoxically, this can lead to heightened awareness to equal-opportunities legislation mandating "integration," which in turn can resurrect policemen's resistance to women officers. Women may respond through litigation, with the result that the number of women recruits "takes off." A consequent deterioration of the relationship between men and women officers results in increased problems such as sexual harassment. Research sheds light on these problems and leads to the stage of "reform." This includes inspections by outsiders, improved training, and the development of procedures for handling grievances. When the numbers of women "tip-over" from being a small minority of officers to a more equal representation, women officers may begin to come up against a "glass ceiling" blocking their upward progress through the ranks. …