Palestinians to raise women’s participation in security sector to double digits

Nihad Wahdan, the head of the Gender Unit at the Ministry of Interior, aims to double the percentage of Palestinian female officers working in Palestine’s 14 security and military institutions to 10 percent in the coming five years.

At the moment, only 5.2 percent of people working in these institutions are women, said Wahdan, who is in charge of promoting gender mainstreaming in the security sector. The 50-year-old mother of nine and her three-member team have been executing campaigns to raise awareness about the role that women can play in improving the functioning of law enforcement agencies.

“In the past, people did not really understand the importance of gender. Now it is different,“ said Wahdan, dressed up in a traditional, colourful, embroidered long dress during a meeting with EUPOL COPPS in her office at the Ramallah-based Ministry of the Interior (MoI). In the civil service and private sector, Palestinian women enjoy a greater level of representation than in the security sector. Wahdan, best known as Um Jaber, is also supported by another 25 people working in other administrations of the MoI.

The Gender Unit of the MoI is the ministry’s department responsible for gender equality. This principle is enshrined in Palestine’s Basic Law (Constitution) as well as international treaties signed by the Palestinian Authority. The Unit prepares and develops the ministerial gender equality policy, participates in the development of equality legislation and promotes gender mainstreaming in the security sector. They also assist decision makers in the Ministry with advice and case studies on gender equality. For example, in 2019 the Gender Unit influenced the adoption of legislation allowing female service women to enjoy the same rights as men in the area of social insurance as their male colleagues.

The gender unit of the MoI was established in 2013, and after six years of raising people’s awareness on the need to integrate women in all sectors, including the security sector, female officers have for the first time reached the highest rank in the security sector, major general.

The impact of the awareness campaign attracting female candidates, Um Jaber says, can be noticed in many areas: the number of female applicants for new posts has tripled; reporting of domestic violence has soared. “I am here to highlight what is right and develop the weak points,” Um Jaber said. “I have advocated for women’s rights. For example, I lobbied for women to be able to keep their maiden name,” she said. “Nowadays students file complaints against teachers. People are now more aware of their rights”. One of Um Jeber’s four daughters works for the PCP. “The rest are working in the civil service,” she added.

EUPOL COPPS is a key partner for the MoI and PCP in supporting efforts to improve women’s participation in the security sector. “Gender mainstreaming in the security sector is not just important in terms of upholding the principle of gender equality,” says EUPOL COPPS Adviser to the Ministry, Martin Kulisek, “there is also significant evidence that it plays an important role in improving the effectiveness of law enforcement and rule of law agencies so they can better protect the rights of the communities they serve”.