Do all-women police stations help address violence against women?

In the APSA Public Scholarship Program, graduate students in political science produce summaries of new research in the American Political Science Review. This piece, written by Eun A Jo, covers the new article by Nirvikar Jassal, Stanford University, Gender, Law Enforcement, and Access to Justice: Evidence from All-Women Police Stations in India

In an attempt to increase women’s representation in law enforcement, several states in India established—among others—all-women police stations. The initiative was well-meaning: policymakers believed that creating specialized stations would allow policewomen to more fully channel their skills and provide victims of gendered crimes a better recourse to justice. If true, establishing such “enclaves” would present an effective way to promote gender representation, both for the female officers in law enforcement and victims of gendered crimes. So the question is: has it worked?

According to Nirvikar Jassal, the answer is not quite. In fact, in his study for the American Political Science Review, he demonstrates that promoting “enclaves” of policewomen can backfire. Contrary to expectations, all-women police stations in India helped neither the female officers in their professional development nor the victims of gendered violence seeking redress. Instead, instituting enclaves led to segregation of gender issues.

Jassal presents evidence from the states of Bihar, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh in India. In a notable methodological advance, he compiled an original dataset of individual-level crime reports, which were made publicly available in 2016. In Haryana—where 20 all-women stations across districts opened on the same day—he studied the impact of the policy before and after its implementation. He then leveraged a large-scale survey to explore people’s perceptions of policewomen.

Together, the data depicts a far less encouraging picture than what the policymakers may have hoped for. Though, theoretically, the introduction of new police stations should have empowered female officers, in reality, policewomen were assigned fewer formal responsibilities after the intervention because such institutions could only accommodate gendered crimes. This, in turn, prevented them from gaining the same experience as their male counterparts, hindering their professional advancement in the police bureaucracy. At the same time, it helped perpetuate the stereotype that policewomen were only fit for selective tasks—such as resolving gendered crimes.

All-women police stations did not improve services for gender violence victims, either. Officers at standard police stations passed on gendered cases to female-only stations—even though they were never intended to be an exclusive forum for women to access services—forcing the victims to travel farther to report their cases. Moreover, victims were not treated any differently at all-women police stations. Suspects were not charged at a higher rate, and gender violence cases continued to be dismissed in large volumes. Instead, “counseling” became the dominant service the victims received: they were encouraged to reconcile with their abusers rather than have them arrested.

In an interview, one policewoman shared bluntly: “In my point of view, 70 percent of the [gender violence] cases are lies. The truth is something else, and what the women try to have written down is something else. Most of the cases that come here women say, “look, I was beaten up.” But that happens in everyone’s house, I’m from a village too.” Similarly skeptical, another policewoman stated: “If the girl has no family, and we find that she’s living with her husband and his family and there’s a good deal of torture going on, then we may register a case.” The evidence indicates that policewomen could harbor the just as severe biases as policemen.

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that all-women police stations failed to generate more positive attitudes toward policewomen. The survey results were, in fact, suggestive of more negative perceptions among those who had access to such enclaves.

Instituting enclaves of policewomen backfired in India. They weakened, rather than strengthened, the position of female officers in law enforcement, and hindered, rather than enhanced, the victims’ experience in seeking justice. Though well-intended, isolating female officers and gendered cases had a serious unintended consequence: entrenching gender biases in a society that is already so deeply mired in gender violence and prejudice. To address these, more comprehensive measures are needed, Jassal concludes; ones that include, rather than separate, gender issues.

 


  • Eun A Jo is a PhD student in the Government Department at Cornell University, specializing in international relations and comparative politics. She is interested in political rhetoric, emotions, and the domestic politics of international reconciliation, with a focus on East Asia. Currently, Eun A is working on two papers, exploring the drivers of South Korean responses to (1) Japanese apologies and (2) Chinese economic retaliation. She is the 2019-2020 Director’s Fellow of the Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies at Cornell and the editor of The Asan Forum, a bimonthly journal of the Seoul-based think tank Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Prior to her study, Eun A worked as an advisor in international security at the South Korean Permanent Mission to the United Nations. She holds a BA from University College Utrecht and an MPP from Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University.
  • Article details: American Political Science Review, Volume 114, Issue 4, November 2020 , pp. 1035-1054
  • About the APSA Public Scholarship Program.

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