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With a nod to gender equality, the Royal Oman Police have started 2017 by appointing the first female officer to head an Omani police station. Proving that patience and perseverence really do pay off—she joined the police force in 1990 and has since occupied a number of prominent posts—Lieutenant Colonel Shaikhah Bint Ashour Al Hambasiyah now heads a police station in the capital city of Muscat.
In the Gulf region, the number of female police officers has been increasing in recent years (although Saudi Arabia still does not permit female officers). Bahrain was the first Gulf nation to allow women to join the police: the Bahraini Women’s Police Force was established in 1970 with two female officers and has since expanded. Kuwait’s first female class of police officers graduated in 2009. In 2003 an all-female squadron of 107 women graduated from Qatar’s police academy for the first time. Most surprising is the case of the United Arab Emirates. The country saw its first batch of female police officers back in 1978 in Abu Dhabi; today, there are over 3,000 women on the Abu Dhabi police force alone. Dubai counts over 1,500 policewomen, who are often seen driving around in Ferraris.
Around the world, women face resistance in joining the police from their families and society as well as their fellow policemen, who may view them with skepticism or question their competence. Being a police officer is often deemed “unsuitable” as it takes women away from their families and forces them to interact with strange men. There is also the possibility that the public might also not take a female officer seriously.
Yet policewomen play an important role in protecting citizens. Studies in the U.S—where police officers have been under fire for using excessive force—have found that female cops fire their weapons far less than men and are less likely to use physical force when arresting someone. They are often better at communication, de-escalating situations, and building trust. It is also essential to have female officers from a cultural standpoint. In some cultures women may only feel comfortable talking to a female officer. It also may be inappropriate, for example, for a male police officer to search a woman under arrest.
Although men still overwhelmingly dominate the profession, there is a clearly a need for female officers and, more importantly, a good reason to hire them. A woman in uniform gives back to her community, makes a difference and sets an example for women’s empowerment.
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