"Only a person with a big heart can do this job": women leading the way in Kyrgyzstan's police service

Saferworld has been working in Kyrgyzstan since 2010 to improve cooperation and understanding between ethnic groups, communities, the police and local authorities. Together with our partners we develop joint solutions to address issues that affect people’s security.

We spoke to Munduz Usenova, senior juvenile inspector from the Batken Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) in Kyrgyzstan, about the challenges of being a woman in the police service and what she has learnt over the years.

Senior juvenile inspector Munduz Usenova, working with communities in Kyrgyzstan. 

Her role involves working with young people to identify and address the underlying factors that cause them to turn to crime or participation in violent groups. She also works to ensure the protection of their rights and assists in their rehabilitation.

After attending training on community security held by Saferworld and our partner Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI), she organised her own training on community security for her colleagues. This sense of female empowerment demonstrates positive steps in gender equality for Kyrgyzstan’s police service.

How has policing in Kyrgyzstan changed for women over time?

Due to the patriarchal system and gender norms in Central Asia, women’s access to security and justice has been limited. Until recently, it was rare to see women police officers on the streets. Women often did not want to go to the [male] police. Stereotypes persisted, including that female police officers would never get married because they would not be good housewives. Since childhood, girls are taught that their life goals should revolve around becoming a good wife and mother. It is very challenging to overcome this and to stand against your family.

However these days, women increasingly attend the academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). Women in the Kyrgyz police service have shown great skills in dealing with people’s needs in a sensitive way and holding better dialogues – this has improved the prestige of the police. However, it takes time for female police officers to be accepted in the communities.

A female police officer can work in a man’s team more easily now. . Men will learn about the needs and rights of women, including the right to be represented in the police service and other state structures, when there is a demand from women and their voices are heard.

What challenges do you face? How do you overcome them?

My work is full of challenges. We are entrusted with the most important thing – . Only a person with a big heart can do this job. It’s for good reason that they say an inspector is a teacher, psychologist, educator and friend for those they serve. We have to find the right approach suitable for each child.

More widely, women in the police face many basic challenges, such as the absence of separate changing rooms for female and male police officers. We often face mistrust or ignorance from communities because of gender stereotypes. In most cases, men are perceived as stronger and more decisive, which means communities are often less willing to cooperate with us.

However, for me, the most challenging part of the work is to see the everyday problems of children. The violence of parents against their children, the ignorance of the community and sometimes our powerlessness to help them because of our lack of capacity, lack of funds and a lack of support from communities.

Why did you participate in community security trainings?

Whenever there is an opportunity, senior staff try to encourage us to improve our knowledge and skills. Saferworld and our local partner, FTI, contacted the chief of police of Batken province to share opportunities for women in the police to learn new skills and build connections with female police officers in other provinces. That is why I decided to participate in the training in Bishkek.

What did the training consist of? What did you learn?

The training gave me practical knowledge on how to host regular meetings with communities and on fostering police accountability and transparency. During the training, the Saferworld police adviser and former police officer, Ravshan Abdukarimov, described how the community security approach has helped other communities talk through and jointly address their problems. We learnt about the community security programme cycle – from the joint conflict analysis, to mapping exercises, and the design, implementation, and evaluation stages of action plans.

I always thought that being a senior juvenile inspector meant that I was the only one who could understand the hardships children face. However, after some simple exercises, such as security concern mapping where community members express their own worries and understandings of safety, I realised that everyone has a different perception, and that we need to include these voices to make them part of the solution. Our Local Crime Prevention Centres (LCPCs) have been very useful for this reason. They provide a space where we can discuss our problems with communities and local police representatives.

 Senior juvenile inspector Munduz Usenova.

How did you share the information that you learnt?

After the training, I held my own mini-training for my colleagues in the DIA. This was not an easy task. Firstly, because of a lack of time, I could not cover all the material from the three-day training in half a day. Secondly, I felt shy about presenting in front of our senior staff. Thirdly, I knew I could not become an expert on community security in just three days, so I was aware that I didn’t have all the answers!

Despite these challenges, the training has given me renewed motivation and confidence in my self-development. It has helped me to improve the way I work and to better understand people’s needs. That is why I thought that it is worth sharing the information with my colleagues through mini-trainings where I used the presentations Saferworld and FTI shared with us.

What sorts of issues are you and your team working on now?

We are trying to work more closely with children left in the care of close relatives – especially those whose parents have left to work abroad – to help ensure that they don’t turn to crime or violence. With this in mind, we actively cooperate with LCPCs, local authorities, women’s committees, elder’s courts and youth committees.

Recently, my colleagues have started to focus more on work aimed at strengthening the interaction of the police with authorities and communities. Before, communities were excluded from any decision-making processes. But with the recent training, we have learnt how to better include them in decisions that affect their lives. Notable changes in our way of working have included encouraging communities to give honest feedback and shifting police focus from what we think needs to be done to what people think needs doing and how it should be addressed. This has been one of the greatest successes of the training. Cooperation leads to more effective services and increased levels of trust between residents, the police and the government. In many cases, this has resulted in authorities paying special attention to the problems of communities. They have also begun to allocate funds to crime prevention.

What are your hopes for the future of community policing in Kyrgyzstan?

I would like to see my daughters have the same rights, acceptance, and power as my sons.  In the future, more emphasis should be placed on the partnership between police, authorities, civil society and communities. The government needs to improve its policies and decision-makers need to understand the benefits of community security.

With the support of Saferworld and our other partners, I hope we can continue to work in close cooperation with the MIA to provide more opportunities for women to achieve their potential. Through collaboration with civil society and women and youth leaders, we can address issues of safety and security together with the aim of promoting gender quality, gender sensitivity and inclusivity.

We need to continue to challenge stereotypes of women and encourage communities in Kyrgyzstan, and women and youth in particular, to raise their voices. Until then, I will stay in the police where I can make a real difference in getting us closer to gender equality and addressing gendered security needs in our country.


Read more about our work in Kyrgyzstan.