Globally women, despite their numerical strength are marginalized in governance levels and in decision making structures. Some of the factors contributing to this marginalization are cultural and traditional beliefs and practices, economical disempowerment and lack of necessary skills such as leadership, advocacy and lobbying. At the family and society level women are care givers, peacemakers and managers.
In order to correct gender inequality and promote equity, the United Nations has, since 1975, been holding international conferences on women as well as passing conventions such as the Convention on Elimination of discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with a view to promoting gender equality. As a result, women are increasingly being involved in every sector of the society including the criminal justice system. However, their criminal justice employment statistics are still minimal. According to data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2004, there were a total of 106, 000 fulltime federal personnel and of these, only 16.
1% were women (2009). Despite having attained these positions through sheer hard work and challenging the gender –biased perceptions by society, they still face challenges and problems. As one advocate for the inclusion of women in the criminal justice system remarked, “…women have been admitted in police work (and the legal system as a whole), because they are women…” (Appier, 1998). Women in the criminal justice system are faced with several challenges and have their strengths and weaknesses. LAW ENFORCEMENT
In the United States, women started taking up law enforcement jobs in the 19th century, and even then, they were awarded clerical jobs. Before this they were often viewed as too weak to take up such jobs. It took the women liberation movement in the 1970s for them to take up equal roles as men in law enforcement (policeemplyment. com, 2009). Penny Harrington became the first police chief in 1985 at a time when women constituted only 2 %t of the entire police force. Today, at least 13 % of police officers are women (National Center for Women and Policing, 2005).
Strengths Women have strengths that lie in their intelligence levels, communication skills, compassion, management, peacemaking and diplomacy skills. In modern law enforcement forces, such skills present women as better candidates for law enforcement. Yet despite this, women remain a minority in the law enforcement mainly because some hiring practices still demand that female candidates pass set physical benchmarks that favor men over women. Traditionally, law enforcers were gauged by their physical strengths. However, this is not the case anymore.
In fact, law enforcement units are increasing facing civil actions suits for excessive use of force, something that is more prevalent with male officers (policeemployment. com, 2009). The management and advocacy skills are also better in women law enforcers, more than their male counterparts. Women law enforcers are able to handle law breakers better than their male counterparts and because of this, they are better at hand ling police-community relations They are also able to handle social cases involving the female better than the male law enforcers.
Furthermore, since the entrant of policewomen in law enforcement, the public attitude has positively changed. Women law enforcers in general are perceived as more polite and sensitive than their male colleagues. In 1977 a New York report by Vera Institute of Justice on the strengths of women in law enforcement stated that, policewomen were not only equally competent as policemen, but also more respectful than the policemen (Feinman, 1994).
The report further stated that when handling victims of rape, policewomen’s ability to sympathize with the victim and even accompany a victim to the doctor’s examining room, observe the injuries inflicted and act as a witness on the case was very prominent. Women in the police force have the ability to administer preventive justice. This stems from the strong conviction of pioneer police women that the cause of social evils like crime and immorality could be identified and prevented.
“…because of their gender, education and social class, policemen can never be as effective as policewomen in crime prevention” (Appier, 1998). It has been noted that the inclusion of women in the police force has drawn more emphasis on the use of understanding and sympathy on law enforcement instead of using mere muscle. Women’s nurturing abilities makes them better positioned to protect and save the general citizenry from getting involved in crime as opposed to policemen whose crime deterrent approach is mainly based on punishment.