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ZIMBABWE: Uncertainty Over Women’s Place in Police Force

HARARE, Oct 29 2010 (IPS) - Women continue to join the Zimbabwe Republic Police, despite mixed reactions to their presence in law enforcement and allegations of abuse by fellow officers.

Retired Detective Inspector Pedzisai Shumba expresses a widely-held view about the roles women can play in policing.

“They handle the paper work at road blocks as men do the searches and are often used to trap high-profile as well as dangerous criminals,” he says.

“Women also investigate rape better than men, and sufferers of such trauma feel better talking to female than to male officers,” he explains.

Selby Hwacha, a renowned human rights lawyer, says police work is not only physical but also involves intellectual duties. “I would not have any problem with my daughter joining the force if she chooses it as a career.”

He says women in the police force are particularly important at this time in Zimbabwe – “a traumatised nation” – because they are better placed to deal with cases of domestic-based violence, rape and other social ills.

It’s a job

According to Zimbabwe Republic Police National Spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, the ZRP does not “categorise its officers along gender lines.” They are trained together, carry out duties together and are promoted on merit.

Female officers occupy a number of senior positions in the ZRP, heading districts and provinces; while two of the five deputy commissioners at national headquarters are women, Bvudzijena says.

The force, 30,000 strong in 2005, plans to increase its membership to 50,000, but with no deliberate efforts to recruit a specific number of women.

Police sources told TerraViva that roughly 25 percent of police officers are female. Each year, scores of young women join the numbers of school leavers scrambling for jobs in the ZRP.

“I wanted to be a teacher, but my parents couldn’t afford the fees. A former schoolmate persuaded me to join her in the police, saying the course was free and short,” recalls 23-year old Constable Ernet Mudzori.

According to Bvudzijena, male and female recruits alike join the force today out of desperation, not out of passion like in the past.

“They just want something to occupy themselves with [in the current economic hardships].”

Mudzori says she has come to like the job after training. She was also lucky to have been posted to the administration section of the Police Protection Unit, providing security to state officials like judges, governors and ministers.

Allegations of abuse

All not ‘rosy’ for most female officers: most emerge from their training with memories they would rather keep to themselves.

Retired inspector Shumba: “Some of these children are first abused before given jobs… Last year at Morris [Police Training Depot] two instructors were fired for that.”

Shumba claims recruitment rules have been “grossly compromised, mainly by politicians.”

“They first take turns at the desperate girls before passing them on to senior police officers, who also exploit them until training is over…

“In the field there are more violations and the women end up used to it,” alleges Shumba. “I wouldn’t encourage my daughter to join… I know what is happening because I have been there.”

Police spokesman Bvudzijena denies Shumba’s allegations of ill-treatment of female officers during recruitment, training and at stations.

Regarding the claim that two instructors were dismissed for abuses in 2009, he said, “Those will remain allegations. There are no such incidents…”

As long as there is no political interference in the police, says Retired Assistant Inspector Mugove Chipashu, women remain an integral part of the system.

He says that in the police as in any workforce involving thousands of employees, there will always be bad elements that need to be “dealt with decisively.”

Zimbabwe last year launched the ZRP Women’s Network to improve cooperation, coordination, sharing of best practices, expertise, skills, challenges and solutions on gender issues in the police force.

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