In September, I was lucky enough to attend The International Association of Women Police (IAWP) conference, which took place in Winnipeg this year. Amongst the sea of professional police in uniform, polished badges, and shining, proud smiles, my journalism classmates and I set out to tell these women’s stories.
Across from me, Shakti Devi delicately cuts the piece of cantaloupe on her plate. Amongst the crowd of women, her pale blue uniform stands out, three gold stars stitched down her shoulders. Across her heart, a badge in gold embroidery reads ‘India’.
Though Devi works for Jammu police, her recent job has been as a peacekeeper for the United Nations. There are over 5,160 female peacekeepers, a dramatic increase from the 20 women who served between 1957-1989 (un.org).
“We have to work hard for accountability. I had to prove myself,” said Devi, a name in Hindu culture that represents a Supreme Being who embodies the power of male deities. “You’re competing with men. You have to prove you’re not less than your male colleagues. We have to make a double effort, or we have no credibility.”
Devi is not alone in her trial for equality as a female police officer. Similar stories to hers were shared throughout The International Association of Women Police (IAWP) conference on September 29th at the Fort Garry Hotel.
Stories form women in uniform from Mexico, Grenada, and Red Deer, Alberta. Stories from single mothers, fresh-faced recruits, and veteran police officers. Stories from Michaëlle Jean, the former Governor General of Canada, who delivered her speech to the crowd with grace, humor, and a strong message.
“Empower women, and you empower a community. Empower women, and you empower a nation,” said Jean, shortly before receiving a standing ovation.
Coumba Ngouye Thiam travelled from Africa for the conference, a police officer from Senegal working as a peacekeeper in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“For me, as one of the first female police officers in my country, there were some problems,” said Thiam, who started working in 1982.
Thiam says that she has a lot more freedom to do her job than officers in Middle Eastern counties, but that there are instances where women are prevented from doing their work. “There are lots of rape cases,” said Thiam, her colleague next to her nodding silently.
According to UN Special Representative Margot Wallström, Eastern Congo is the “rape capital of the world”, with some reports stating that 48 women are raped every hour. “They don’t want women investigating rape cases because we are women, too,” she said.
For Thiam, though, working as a peacekeeper is more about what she can do, rather than what she can’t. “I love to support women,” said Thiam, smiling. Her colleague next to her smiles, too.
“I love to help women. I love sharing my police experience. I love accompanying them in their work to show them the best practices. They accept me in their heart,” said Thiam, touching her chest. “I love it.”