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Inspiration: women from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force march on International Woman’s Day

Women in uniform

The AFP and regional partner agencies have a long history of mutual engagement and support for gender issues and equity.

The 2003 Australasian Council of Women in Policing (ACWAP) conference was the perfect opportunity for progress. The AFP was hosting the conference in Canberra and invited seven senior women police from Pacific island nations to attend.

Also invited was the then Acting Fiji Police Commissioner Moses Driver to sit on a Commissioner’s panel. A question was put to the Acting Commissioner Driver as to whether a women-in-policing network would be possible and a good idea. His simple answer was, yes.

In 2004, the AFP funded the first meeting for police women from the seven Pacific island countries held in Fiji. The first meeting hosted seven countries. AFP Pacific Police advisor Lautoa Faletau says the Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police (PICP) forum subsequently endorsed the Women’s Advisory Network (WAN), which has now grown to 21 PICP members, including Australia and New Zealand.

“The PICP have endorsed WAN to become an advisory working group for the Commissioners,” Ms Faletau says. “So across the Pacific, there is this women’s network that is working away at maximising women’s contribution to women in policing.”

Since 2004, the PCIP WAN has made significant progress in advancing gender issues in police agencies and more broadly throughout the Pacific community. The AFP continues to support PICP WAN – through the PICP Secretariat who are responsible for coordinating and facilitating its annual meeting and activities.

Ms Faletau says the AFP through its Pacific Police Development Program Regional (PPDP-R) also supports the women’s networks through the work of other regional coordination mechanisms.

This includes the Pacific Police Training Advisory Group (PPTAG) which looks at reviewing and recommending common standards in training, endorsing a diversity module for the Pacific.  Efforts to influence policy via a policy network that helps police review and look at the development of policies collectively in line with their legislation is also one of the regional approaches to implementing change.

“There are a whole lot of forces at play – legislation, policy, practice and community expectations as well. The evolution, or the growth, of this focus on improving or maximising women’s contribution in policing  spans all sectors of the organisation.”

Historical effort

The development of addressing gender issues in policing and in the broader Pacific community context has, in fact, been an evolution reaching back to the 1980s. Pacific island nations in the early 1980s were signing up to UN conventions. Ms Faletau says countries signing the Convention on the Rights of Children and the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women provided the impetus for change.

The AFP has partnered with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) to address recognised gaps in police response to domestic violence – particularly the advocacy of victims.

The FWCC was established in 1984 and offered targeted programs that address gender issues and human rights. FWCC Coordinator Shamima Ali has been with the FWCC since its early days and has been instrumental in the development of an integrated approach to raising awareness on gender and human rights and the elimination of violence against women in Fiji and across the region. 

The training provided by the FWCC has a particular focus on the experience of women in the Pacific and is tailored for a Pacific audience.

“Rather than try to design and develop a program for the Pacific, the AFP partnered with and funded the existing and respected entity in the Pacific that has a very strong network of centres across the region to develop and deliver training for Pacific Police on gender and human rights,” Ms Faletau says.

In-country follow up visits, which form part of PPDP-R program monitoring which is conducted six to 12 months after delivery of the training, have demonstrated the success of the program.

“We are looking for cultural change. We look for evidence from the participants themselves. We also interview their colleagues – and we try to conduct a 360 degree assessment where we also talk to their peers, we talk to their supervisors and we talk to team members looking for examples of changes in the participant’s behaviour as a result of the training.”

“Some men have said they had no idea the things they were doing were impacting on women adversely, or had no idea that it was not acceptable. So there is a lot of evidence that there has been personal change, which in turn results in changes in the workplace. It is really quite profound.

“There’s also evidence of empowerment for women,” Ms Faletau says. “They have felt more empowered to apply for promotions. I think the statistics around the Pacific show more women applying for leadership positions or senior executive positions. There has been a significant spike over the past five years across the region.”


The work in the Pacific continues to inspire other women. Federal Agent Tina Westra was deployed as a police advisor to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Counter Piracy Program in 2013-14.

The UNODC program was headquartered in Mauritius in 2013 and Federal Agent Westra worked closely with the Mauritius Police Force (MPF). One of the advantages of working with the UN was the opportunity to network with numerous women police officers across the world. Her posting to Mauritius was no different.

Federal Agent Westra found that the percentage of women in the MPF was about 7 per cent. She says that was lower than historical percentages for police agencies in the Pacific. She also knew that more than 1200 women would be attending the International Association of Women Police (IAWP) conference in Durban, South Africa, within weeks of arriving in Mauritius.

With the theme of 'Global Empowerment of Women in Policing', Federal Agent Westra decided she would request an MPF police officer attend the conference with her.

“I didn’t request for a male of female officer. I just wanted to raise the awareness of the MPF Commissioner that there was an international association for women police and how that might help the women in the MPF.

“It was in my work plan before I got to Mauritius to work with the women police there and the AFP was generally supportive of the plan. If there were funds available then the AFP was supportive of directing that to women in uniform.”

The MPF Commissioner was also supportive of the request and female MPF WP Sergeant Urmilla Seetul-Greedharee was sponsored by the AFP to attend the Durban conference and become the first female officer to attend an IAWP conference.

A post activity report by Sergeant Seetul-Greedharee made three key recommendations for the MPF Commissioner to initiate an MPF Women Police Network in Mauritius and generate discussions and activities surrounding gender mainstreaming strategies and policies.

It was planned to launch the MPF Women in Policing Association on International Women’s Day on 8 March 2014. It was also planned to take the opportunity to launch Mauritius Women in Uniform Association as well.

Federal Agent Westra says the Australian High Commission was supportive of the initiative. “I planted the seed and the High Commission pushed it forward”. The High Commissioner’s residence was used to launch the Women in Uniform Association and a number of dignitaries were invited. The US, UK and French ambassadors attended adding support.

Federal Agent Westra drew on her former experience and network, particularly a former role as Senior Liaison Officer in Vanuatu supporting the Pacific Island Chiefs of Police Women Advisory Network. She was also aware that a Women in Policing Network had been established in Solomon Islands and sought advice and lessons learned from that experience.

So on 8 March, the MPF Women in Policing Network and Mauritius Women in Uniform Association was launched at the Australian High Commissioner’s residence.

“We had fire brigade, customs, nurses, police and prisons as well as immigration in the network,” Federal Agent Westra says.

“They said they would meet once a month at one of the agency offices. Their commissioners and/or chiefs wanted to be there at the initial stages and they all wanted to promote their women’s network.

“So it sort of evolved in a bit of competition among the chiefs as to who had the strongest network and who had the most support. So it actually worked for the women by getting a focus from their chief or executive.”

The initiative was so successful that The Australian High Commission in Mauritius asked Federal Agent Tina Westra back to Mauritius in 2016 to set up other Women in Uniform Network in Rodrigues Island.

Work in progress

The AFP’s work with partner countries in the Pacific continues. Ms Faletau says the “future is bright” but there is a lot of work that still needs to be done. She says more individuals are becoming sensitised to the issues but policy and practices and the attitudes of senior managers and leaders remain the challenges for participants when they return to the workplace.

An important next step is to train trainers to take the program back into the respective agencies throughout the Pacific and for senior leaders and middle managers training programs to be conducted.

“A lot of the participants say ‘you know what – I really want to make a difference but my boss has no clue’,” Ms Faletau says. “Unless the bosses are sensitised nothing is going to change. Programs targeted at senior management and leaders will result in a trickle-down effect where change will cascade down.”

Ms Faletau says that work at the regional level with PICP is important, and feels there is support at all levels to make change happen. She says governments throughout the region have national gender development plans to increase the participation of women and to maximise their contribution in their communities. The AFP continues to support this effort to bring about change.

“The success we have with the FWCC training program can’t be a standalone solution to addressing the issues women face. We need to look at the bigger picture and continue to research and explore opportunities and programs that can work with the police to strengthen police response.”