Gender Equality, Security policies, Violencia/Violence/Violência

Gender perspective in public security

Written by: Lucía Morale, consultant in public security policies, gender and human rights. @lumorale

#PublicPolicies #Women #Police #Gender #GenderViolence


Despite the progress made, effective equality between men and women is still a long way off. Structural inequalities are the order of the day in all areas and public policies are still far from being equitable.

In general terms, the data show that in the world women earn 20% less than men for our work, two thirds of the 733 million illiterate people in the world are women, we spend three times more time than men in caregiving tasks and 84% of single-parent households are actually single-parent households. Women also continue to occupy fewer spaces in the public sphere, although the differences between countries are substantial: on the world average, only 24% of women hold parliamentary positions and Heads of State do not exceed 6%.

Violence based on gender affects more than half of the world’s women. Although there are shortcomings in official data collection, surveys of women and the work of social organizations help us to get an idea of the magnitude of this violence

At Europe, one in three women has suffered physical or sexual violence in her life, and this figure is repeated in Spain. The figures are even more serious if other types of violence are included. For example, the Catalan survey on gender-based violence or the Gender Equality Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean show that two out of three women have suffered some kind of male violence in their lifetime.

On the other hand, if we look at women workers in the field of security we see that their presence is still very low in many places. In Spain the average number of women in the police force is 10% and the European average is no more than 17%. In Latin America the situation is similar and although there are substantial variations between different security forces, the average for the region barely exceeds 13%[i]. These figures are much lower if we look at the higher hierarchies or fire-fighting forces, where they rarely exceed 1 or 2%.

Gender perspective

The majority vision of the world is androcentric, that is to say, it places the man – typical male – as the centre and model of the «average human been» naturalized in such a way and invisibilizing diversities of which we are often not even aware.

This centrality ranges from less relevant issues such as the size of mobile phones, the keys on pianos or the temperature at which air conditioning is set in offices, to others of much greater impact such as the testing of new drugs or the construction of security elements.[ii].

Having a gender perspective means recognizing and questioning the existence of inequalities, as well as the way in which the patriarchal social systems and norms that sustain them are created, reproduced and persist.a de las desigualdades, así como de los sistemas y normas sociales patriarcales que las crean, reproducen y mantienen.

Thus, incorporating a gender perspective into public policies implies recognizing preexisting inequalities and implementing actions to reverse and avoid the situations of marginalization, violence and injustice that they generate.

Situations of everyday life, a priori insignificant, such as queues in public toilets also respond to this lack of gender perspective. As a rule, men’s and women’s toilets are allocated the same amount of space. However, for different reasons (women constitute the majority of the world’s elderly population, they are more likely to be accompanied by children, they are pregnant, or with their menstrual period, etc.) women need 2.3 times more time than men to use a toilet[iii], so it would be equitable if this difference were taken into account at the time of its construction.

Because we have such a naturalized world for men, having a gender perspective is not common, and even decisions that may seem equitable are not.

On road safety, women are 47% more likely to suffer serious injuries and 71% more likely to suffer moderate injuries than men. This can partly be explained by the fact that car safety tests are conducted on dummies based on the body of the average man – taller and heavier than a woman. Although models have already been developed according to women’s bodies, until 2011 in the United States it was not mandatory to use them and in the European Union, where cars must pass 5 tests to go on sale, the use of a female dummy is not mandatory. In addition, because the ergonomics of cars are based on male bodies, women, who on average are shorter than men, adopt a more forward posture to get too close to the steering wheel and that increases the risk of injury in a collision[iv].

On the other hand, in highly masculinized work areas such as security and emergencies, uniforms and safety pieces such as harnesses, bulletproof vests or work tools are also usually designed for men’s bodies. And many times the solution given to women is to buy men’s uniforms in a smaller size, being totally inadequate for them and complicating their performance, comfort and safety when performing the job.

Of course, not all women and men are the same, and in this sense, other differences such as economic condition, origin, age, capacities, etc., must also be taken into account, this is what is called intersectional perspective.

Gender perspective in security policies

To mainstream the gender perspective, the first step is to recognize that no policy is gender neutral. And that, if an effort is not made to incorporate this perspective, they will end up omitting or negatively affecting women

At the same time, it is necessary to bring to the public agenda problems that have been neglected for years and that mainly affect women, such as gender-based violence.

It is necessary that a gender perspective be present in the design, implementation and evaluation of policies.

For this, a major constraint is the need for data. In order to take into account the differences we must have disaggregated data and this is still a pending issue in many areas of administration.

Finally, a necessary, although not sufficient, condition is to guarantee the participation of women in the processes of participation and decision-making in public policies.

The incorporation of a gender perspective in security policies will imply working on the one hand with a view to the citizenry and on the other hand a review of the structures and internal conditions of the security forces.

Looking towards citizenship

As mentioned above, the first step is to analyse how the problem we are assessing affects men and women differently and how the proposed solution would affect them differently.

To take it to a concrete example, when home confinement was decreed because of the pandemic in many of the countries, people were restricted to movement except for those performing essential tasks.

In Spain, a system of police control was installed over people who did not comply with these limitations could be fined and a certificate from the employer was required to prove that the person was carrying out an essential activity. Essential tasks included home care work. However, most of these tasks are performed in non-regular conditions and therefore employers were unwilling to sign documents that would show this irregularity. Thus, the workers in this field, almost 100% of whom are women, were exposed to fines for not being able to justify their journeys. Upon noticing this situation, the Guardia Urbana of Barcelona created an alternative form that consisted of a responsible declaration signed by the worker herself in which she declared that she was carrying out care work and thus avoided this risk of sanction.

Other quite frequent examples in the field of security are urban planning with a gender perspective, which guarantees the participation of women in urban design to address the differences in the perception of security, or the response mechanisms to aggressions in public transport or nightlife, which involve training and protocols for police personnel to respond to these specific situations.

Drug policies have been analysing whether plans take this perspective into account for years, but there is still a lot of room for improvement[v].  

Road safety must also be approached from a gender perspective, since mobility behaviors, offending behaviors and the effects of traffic crashes are not gender neutral. For example, women move more on foot, travel shorter distances, and engage in less risky behaviors than men.

In other areas, such as police violence, the gender issue is also present, as seen with the hundreds of complaints of sexual violence against the carabineros in Chile in their interventions before the demonstrations of 2019, ranging from humiliation, to touching and serious assaults during raids and arrests.

Internal equality policies in law enforcement bodies

It is not possible to talk about security with a gender perspective if policies are not implemented to guarantee equality within security organizations.

Police and emergency professions are still very much associated with masculine values, have a very androcentric culture and in many cases are also perceived as hostile environments for women. This affects both the number of women in these professions and their working conditions.

Equality policies must include measures to increase the representation of women in the workforces, to guarantee that the selection processes do not have biases that may favour men, and this implies compensating with positive actions the previous structural inequalities that affect the fact that women have less access to this type of professions.

In addition, it will be necessary to ensure that infrastructures and facilities are appropriate for women. As well as avoiding vertical segregation – less presence of women in senior positions – and horizontal segregation – segregation of tasks or areas for women such as community policing versus others for men such as investigation or special groups.

Another key element is to ensure a work environment free of workplace and sexual harassment. With awareness-raising and sensitization measures, but also with protocols for reporting and internal management of incidents that may occur. Some examples are the Integral Gender Centers in Argentina.

Finally, both internal measures and the view towards citizenship have to be incorporated into gender-sensitive training.

The risk of mainstreaming

The gender perspective must be transversal in public policies, that is to say, it must be present in all processes and actions. But we warn that this expectation of transversality runs the risk of diluting its content, that is, of ending up being something that is everywhere but nowhere.

Often, resistance within organizations to openly discuss and confront these issues means that, in order to comply with external standards or requirements, the gender perspective is considered as a transversal element, and thus, in practice, specific spaces for debate, training and lines of work that really put it on the table are ignored.

The gender perspective is not something we have incorporated, neither men nor women, therefore, if we leave it to chance, or we incorporate it in generic terms, what will surely happen is that there will not be a real incorporation of this perspective.

Final summary 

Gender mainstreaming aims to achieve a more egalitarian society, neutralizing and reversing the structural and historical inequalities on which our institutions, actions and public policies are built.

It therefore requires recognizing, analyzing and critiquing these inequalities and valuing these differences throughout the public policy cycle.

It is not possible to achieve a gender perspective without involving women in the knowledge and decision-making processes, although this is not in itself sufficient to consider gender mainstreaming. The review and incorporation of the gender perspective should encompass both public policies aimed at citizens and internally within the organizations, and should be based on concrete data, generating concrete actions, indicators and results linked to this perspective in such a way that it does not remain generic or enunciative.

[i] Donadio Marcela y Mazzotta Cecilia Coord. La mujer en las instituciones armadas y policiales. RESDAL. 2009. Disponible en y Kevin Casas, Paola González y Liliana Mesías. Transformación policial para el 2030 en America Latina. BID 2018. Disponible en:

[ii] Para un análisis detallado consultar la investigación de Criado Pérez Caroline, La Mujer Invisible.2019. Seix Barral.

[iii] Ibíd P.78-79

[iv] Ibíd P. 260-261.

[v] Como ejemplos puede consultarse para España el Diagnóstico y recomendaciones elaborado por la fundación Atenea. Disponible en y para América Latina el documento “Políticas sobre drogas y perspectiva de género en las Américas: Hallazgos de los informes nacionales de la séptima ronda del Mecanismo de Evaluación Multilateral (MEM)” Preparado por la Comisión Interamericana para el Control del Abuso de Drogas, disponible en

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