Bimala Thapa – tackling perceptions of women in the Nepal Police

25 November 2017 Ojaswi Shah

This short video is part of Saferworld's gender, security and development interview series, exploring how unequal and harmful standards and expectations of women and men can be challenged successfully in Nepal.

In the first instalment of the series, we spoke with the former Deputy Inspector General of the Nepal Police, Bimala Thapa. Bimala was one of the first senior woman police officers in the modern history of Nepal’s state security institutions. While she has been retired for more than three years, Bimala continues to share her experience and knowledge as a public security expert and sheds light on her professional and personal struggles as a female police officer, providing insight into how she was able to overcome these challenges. In the video, she gives examples of the discrimination she faced as well as highlighting how things have been getting better for women in the police over the past decade.

Bimala joined the Nepal Police in 1984, at a time when there were very few female recruits and the working environment was not welcoming to women. Women still make up less than 10 per cent of the Nepal Police workforce to date, although out of the four state security institutions they have the highest number of female employees. In 2013, the Nepal Police announced that they will increase this to 10 per cent by 2018. This under-representation indicates low acceptance among the public towards women as police officers, lack of gender-sensitive infrastructures within security institutions, and importantly, previous policies and practices within the organisation that discouraged women from considering a career in public and national security. Since 2010, there have been efforts within all state security institutions to improve working conditions for women including the introduction of more gender-sensitive policies for recruitment, revisions to the code of conduct and inclusion of mandatory trainings on gender, women, peace and security and child rights.

In 2012, the Nepal Police adopted a gender policy to improve the workplace environment for female police officers as well as deliver more effective, inclusive and gender-sensitive public security services. Progress towards implementation of the gender policy is ongoing, and long-lasting change will depend on a shift with Nepal's social and cultural views of women in policing. As that continues, both those within government and civil soceity need to ensure that women not only play a role – just as men do – in contributing to public security provision, but that public attitudes towards working women change as well – particularly towards women who work as security providers. However, for this shift to materialise it is essential that broader changes take place to challenge the patriarchal mind-set within society that discourages women from working outside of the home, accessing property rights or reporting violence.

Similar to its South Asian neighbours, a patriarchal mind-set within Nepali society discourages women from taking up work outside of the home – especially in places where society deems them to be working in close proximity to men. Such a regressive understanding results in harmful speculations and undermines women’s abilities to function effectively in almost all workplace settings outside of the home. This is especially damaging in the case of the security sector and the development sector. Both sectors involve challenging existing notions of how men and women should behave – with one putting women in a position to contribute and lead on delivering public security, and the other empowering women to express opinions that go against repressive gender norms and inequality. These norms are practised within and outside the home, and in different spheres such as those linked to economics and livelihoods, social issues, security and politics.

As Bimala highlights, women officers are better equipped to deal with gender-based violence (GBV), violence against women and girls (VAWG) and children-related criminal offences. Research shows that GBV and VAWG have been top public security concerns in Nepal for years. So to tackle these issues effectively, the government and security institutions must uphold their commitments to have at least 20 per cent women within security institutions, as well as to continue and improve trainings on gender and women’s rights. They must also continue to improve their internal processes which include building gender-sensitive infrastructures and internal policies, to ensure that women’s needs are taken into account and, most importantly, that attitudes towards women security providers both within and outside security institutions improve.

There are no short-cuts to achieving gender equality, nor will the adoption of a gender policy automatically translate into gender-sensitive public security. The Nepal Police will need to constantly revisit their gender policies and demonstrate their commitment to reach the goal of having 10 per cent women police by 2018. They should also work with civil society and other government representatives to change people’s views of women’s roles as police officers. The most important marker of change has probably been the willingness of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Nepal Police to acknowledge the challenges faced by women police and to consider how to challenge patriarchal influences within the organisation (such as through the Gender Policy of Nepal Police of 2012). However, they need to set out clear guidelines for internal SGBV complaint mechanisms and design and deliver gender-sensitive public security trainings for all personnel.

This blog and video are part of the gender, security and development interview series. More videos and blogs will be released over the coming months.

Learn more about our work on gender in Nepal