The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) helps keep Americans safe by minimizing the impact of international crime and illegal drugs on our nation. Functioning criminal justice systems overseas are key ingredients to accomplishing this mission – effective justice systems are essential to countering crimes that have the potential to spill beyond borders and impact the United States. With this in mind, INL works to increase the effectiveness of police, courts, and corrections institutions in countries across the globe.
One key factor in strengthening criminal justice institutions relates to women. As INL’s Senior Gender Advisor, I support its efforts to ensure women’s participation and perspectives are part of our global programming. A cornerstone of this commitment is INL’s Guide to Gender in the Criminal Justice System. Despite the fact that women comprise half the world’s population, women are under-represented in police forces and judiciaries in every region of the world. Worldwide, women account for an average of only 9 percent of police and 27 percent of judges. In the United States, local police agencies average about 12 percent women, and state courts average about 33 percent.
Why does this under-representation matter?
The short answer is that increasing participation of women as criminal justice practitioners increases the effectiveness of the overall system. Multiple studies have confirmed this striking finding.
The 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy recognizes that, “governments that fail to treat women equally do not allow their societies to reach their potential.” The strategy prioritizes efforts to advance women’s equality, protect the rights of women and girls, and promote women empowerment programs. Similarly, the Women Peace and Security Act, which President Trump signed into law in October 2017, highlights the role of the United States in promoting the “meaningful participation of women in all aspects of overseas conflict prevention, management, and resolution.”
Consistent with these ideals, INL’s work advances women’s full participation in criminal justice professions overseas. Increasing numbers of women in the police force helps us gain a fuller understanding of crime in a community. Research has shown, for example, a positive correlation between the percent of women in the police force and the reporting of crimes, including sexual assault and domestic violence. This means that crimes may go unreported in the absence of women’s involvement and leaves perpetrators unaccountable and victims unprotected.
INL launched its #WomenLeadingSecurity campaign last year for Women’s History Month, and in its first month it reached nearly 55,000 social media users around the world. The campaign initially honored outstanding women working in the field of criminal justice in INL partner countries. Recognizing that the campaign raises awareness about the important role that women play in security and justice fields, we invite all women working in criminal justice systems who are positively impacting their communities to use the hashtag to tell their stories. This year, as part of our celebration of Women’s History Month, we hope to inspire more women and girls around the world who had not previously thought a career in criminal justice was possible.
About the Author: Kathleen Coogan serves as Senior Advisor for Atrocities Prevention and Gender in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs's (INL) Office of Criminal Justice Assistance and Partnership (CAP).