All‑Women Police Squads Are Inspiring, But Not the Answer to Women’s Safety
In the years since the 2012 Nirbhaya gang rape case in Delhi, the issue of gender violence in India has arguably been prioritized like never before. The government hastily made populist decisions to respond to the public outcry, from speeding up rape trials, and ensuring harsher penalties including the death sentence, to creating laws against stalking and harassment. An outcome of this — hailed as a progressive move by many — has been the establishment of all-women police forces and stations. And while the sight of women on bikes, enforcing the law, sounds like a Utopian fantasy, it’s not a long-term, effective solution to women’s safety.
All-female squads have been launched in New Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur, Kolkata, Vijayapur, and Bengaluru. Just last month India announced its first all-women SWAT team, comprising 36 women trained in weapons handling, counter-terrorism, and Krav Maga. The squads are meant to stop harassment or assault as it happens, so women officers are split up into pairs and patrol the streets on motorcycles, which allow them to manoeuver narrow streets and respond quickly to complaints.
The motorcycles are equipped with GPS, LED flashers, and baton holders, while their riders have body cameras, pepper sprays, and taser guns in addition to their regular firearms. Many women say the squads’ mere presence on the streets, in addition to their training and skills, acts as a psychological deterrent to men, and make people more likely to report incidences of harassment or abuse.
Yet many victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and abuse are wary of reporting cases to police officers, for fear of further mistreatment; all-women police stations are attempting to change this. They have been set up across India in states like Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, and Haryana.
But this approach — of segregating our police forces — has a very practical flaw: there just aren’t enough women on the force. The all-female squads are limited to small numbers and therefore can’t cover enough ground. (The squad numbers range from a 600-strong team in Delhi, to a mere 25 officers in Kolkata.) There are 442 all-women police stations, but this is out of a total of 15,000 stations nationwide. And there aren’t always enough female officers available to staff these stations. Although the government has issued a 33% reservation for female police officers, women actually constitute only 7.28% of the force, meaning all-female squads and stations can only go so far in keeping women safe.
While these female officers are doing a fantastic job on the ground, we need to implement programs and training that ensures the police are sensitive and respond to gender violence effectively, across the board. Police need to be adequately trained in handling cases of sexual assault and gender violence, treating the complaints seriously and ensuring survivors’ privacy and protection; investigations need to be carried out professionally, to ensure evidence-based convictions; survivors need to be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of whether the police officer handling the case is a man or a woman. Placing the onus on women to keep other women safe is a cop-out.
If we keep making only women responsible for women’s safety, we’re never going to be able to change the culture that normalizes male violence against women in the first place.