By Imtiaz Gul
Cairns – On the cool Monday morning here at this beautiful resort town, dozens of national flags went up to mark the Parade of Nations involving over 1000 female police officers – drawn from 63 nations. The occasion was the 17th International Women and Law Enforcement Conference (IWLEC)
The marchers included about a dozen Pakistani women police officers of different cadres, dressed in their police and para-military fatigues. The march culminated at the grand Cairns Convention Center after walking through the streets of this beautiful bustling town, ahead of the launch of the conference, which represents a huge gathering of women police officers from diverse national and ethnic backgrounds.
For the next few days, themes such as women role in peace and security in an international context, benefits of gender responsive policing, gender imbalance, social and political discrimination within the institution, response to offence against women, mainstreaming of women voices against excesses through effective women policing.
The inaugural ceremony was an amazing display of humour, serious talk, human and animal rights and a bit of inspirational music – all rolled into one strong message i.e. empowered women can do wonders if given opportunity.
Equal opportunity is what also seems to drive the present day Australia; women make some 40 percent of the Australian Federal Police (AFP) force too. Women presence is visible wherever you go. But the fight for indiscriminate treatment at societal and institutional level remains a continuous struggle, as underlined by Margaret Shorter, President of the International Association of Police.
We must continue our conscious efforts to promote female participation in all spheres of governance, she underlined. She said such global gatherings offered a great opportunity for sharing experiences and could help women officers in playing a critical role in community safety in difficult times.
Women policing playing a critical role in community safety
In a display of passion and professionalism, Christine Anno, the famed Australian pop singer and actress, enthused the 1000 plus gathering with her passionate, “My island home, surrounded by sea.”
On the other hand, Terry Irwin, the patron of the conference and wife of the great Australian crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, using the example of a US jail inmate survey to draw an analogy between animal rights protection and need for safeguarding human life.
“100 per cent of inmates in a US jail had first committed a crime against animals before doing so against a human beings,” Ms Irvin said while underscoring the need to sensitize human beings for protecting animals.
Another strong message came from Debb Platz, President Australsian Council of women and policing; absence of women perpetuates their absence, so women must try to be as present as possible and make their presence purposeful wherever they are.
Change also requires courageous decisions and actions without care for fear or favour, argued Ms Platz.
With women police officers from the entire Asia Pacific region, the gathering here, much of the focus is on how the delegates can benefit from one another’s experiences, particularly to deal with issues arising out of the war against terrorism and the emergence of new terror franchises such as DAESH. Discussions on community policing and protecting women’s rights in the new security environment are also part of the four-day conference.