Never in the history of the Sri Lanka Police Department has there ever been a woman Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, a woman Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police or a woman Inspector General of Police (IGP). Under existing procedure, there never can be. Despite thousands of women now serving in the police force [...]


Bleak place for women in male- dominated Police Dept.


New Police Chief Pujith Jayasundara inspects the guard of honour that included the women police force. Pic by Indika Handuwala

Never in the history of the Sri Lanka Police Department has there ever been a woman Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, a woman Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police or a woman Inspector General of Police (IGP). Under existing procedure, there never can be.

Despite thousands of women now serving in the police force in different capacities, the Police Department does not make allowance for female DIGs, Senior DIGs or IGPs. There are simply no allotted vacancies for them.

That is not all. There is only one approved cadre position for a woman Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP); two approved cadre positions for women Superintendents of Police (SP); and 15 approved cadre positions for women Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASP).

In contrast, there are 12 approved cadre positions for male Senior DIGs; 46 for male DIGs; 169 for male SSPs; 162 for male SPs; and 314 approved cadre positions for male ASPs.

This status quo has recently become a problem. The Police Department today has 10 female ASPs. In January, seven of them completed eight years of service, thus achieving a target that entitles them (on fulfillment of certain other criteria) to a promotion. The remaining three will have finished eight years of service in November this year.

However, there are just two slots available for female SPs. Both are currently vacant. The one available position for a female SSP is also still unfilled. But there are more qualified women in the police force than there are positions.

With so few slots, there are only three ways for a woman of ASP grade to rise if the existing SP positions are already occupied. One is if a female SP is promoted to SSP and leaves her slot vacant; the second is if a female SP retires; and the third is if a female SP dies or leaves.

The serving female ASPs are all in their late thirties or early forties. This means they have many years of service left but the majority will have no further career prospects—unless the Police Department changes its procedures. Till now, however, there has been latent, sometimes open, resistance to that notion in a service vastly dominated by men.

For instance, women are segregated by gender. In 2015, the Police Department proposed a list of 57 names for advancement from ASP to SP grade. There were no women among them. Even women who had performed better than their male counterparts on all counts did not make the cut because they were clustered separately on the basis of gender—and, of course, there are only two positions available for women SPs. A proposal to combine the cadre positions to allow equal opportunity for women went ignored.

Combining the cadre positions would have increased the slots available to women. This is because the total number of serving male ASPs far exceeds the number that meets all the requirements to be promoted to SP rank. Even when all qualified male ASPs are elevated to SP rank, a large number of positions remain vacant. Even now, there are 87 actual vacancies in the male ASP list.

These and other issues were taken up before the National Police Commission (NPC) this week at a meeting called to hear the grievances of policewomen. It was noted, for instance, that the Police Department lacked clear policies with regards to recruitment, deployment and promotion of women.

While there are now just over 8000 women in the police force (the number of policemen is around 70,000), approval has been granted and money passed to hire 2000 more at the level of Woman Police Constable. Even this has not been done.

The shortage of women in the police force has meant that serving policewomen, especially at lower ranks, are stretched beyond their limits. “Even if there is a madwoman reported in my area, I am sent to deal with her,” one constable told this writer, requesting anonymity. “In addition to all my duties, I have to attend to anything that requires my presence as a woman police constable.”

Some police stations—even big ones—have one, at most two, policewomen on roster. At times, they are on duty even while ill or grappling with personal issues. There is a tendency among the male-dominated Police Department to reserve the “more attractive” policewomen for administrative work in the bureaus of higher officers, said several official sources. This reduces the number of women available for work in “territorial” police stations, as opposed to “functional” ones.

“There has to be a clear policy on assignment of duties to policewomen,” observed one. “The gender bias is so strong that women are not considered for the positions of Officers-in-Charge (OIC). The assumption is that a woman cannot handle the task. But how would one know until it is tried out?”

“A woman could first be given charge of a smaller grade police station from where she could work her way up,” he continued. “For the most part, the skills an OIC needs are common sense, knowledge, honesty, integrity, strong public relations skills and the capacity to run a police station.”

There is, however, one woman ASP who is today responsible for an entire division. ASP Madara Ariyasena is in charge of Kelaniya. She, too, will be eligible for promotion to SP grade. But in some other stations, women are made to work under men who are junior to them in service.

Despite there being insufficient women to meet the needs of the Department, female representation in the police force has increased overall when compared with the past. But the number of senior positions available to women has not been proportionately adjusted as has been done for the men. The ratio, therefore, is skewed.

The NPC said it would consider these and many other representations with care. “We found there were shortages in promotional avenues and also that there were vacancies,” said NPC Secretary N. Ariyadasa Cooray. “Short, medium and long-term concerns were identified. We can address the short-term concerns. For the others, we asked them to prepare an action plan with recommendations.”

Short-term measures include advising the IGP to fill existing vacancies in the women police cadre, Mr. Cooray said. Issues such as posting women as OICs and promotions will have to be looked into carefully and tackled in consultation with other government departments that authorize cadre increases and salaries, he said.

“We realised that when we are going for reforms we have to look at the gender issues involved,” NPC Chairman Prof. Siri Hettige said. “There is a great deal to do to address longstanding grievances. We are studying the present situation and we have done extensive consultations already.”

“Based on our findings, we will set up a programme to address these matters,” he asserted. “It is going to be a different situation in the near future. Things have to be changed.”

Petitioners seek redress against gender bias  

Women were enrolled to the police force for the first time in 1952. In 1976, two female police officers were promoted as Woman Police Sub Inspector, a position which was created that same year.

In 1988, Premila Divakara became the first woman to assume the rank of ASP. In 1989, the Police Department started direct recruitment of women Sub Inspectors. Mrs Divakara left the police force in 2002 as the only female SSP in the history of the Sri Lanka Police. There has not been one since.

SSP Divakara has gone on record stating that she fought hard for equal status for women in the police force. Now, three other policewomen—all Assistant Superintendents of Police—have filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court seeking redress against what they say is gender bias in the Police Department.

The Sunday Times obtained a copy of the petition from Counsel J.C. Weliamuna who, with Pasindu de Silva, is representing the policewomen. Sujeewa Kaluarachchi is the instructing attorney.

S.A. Renuka Jayasundara, W.J. Padmini and R.A. Darshika Kumari plead that they have rights against gender discrimination under the Constitution of Sri Lanka and several covenants and treaties that Sri Lanka has acceded to. They all joined the police force in February 1997 as Sub-Inspectors and rose to the ranks of Inspectors and ASPs.

“The Petitioners have discharged duties similar to that of male officers at duty stations,” the petition states. They were promoted to the rank of ASP in the expectation that they would perform the same duties as male police officers.

“The Petitioners state that they have served in many parts of the country including the operational areas and are willing to serve anywhere in the country,” it continues. “In fact, the 2nd Petitioner was serving at the TID (06.02.2011) and on duty until 12 midnight on the day prior to which she gave birth to her younger child.”

The petition states that there has been “unfair and inexplicable discrimination meted out to female police officers” under a new scheme of promotions. “There is no career progression for female officers beyond the rank of SP, except to reach the single SSP position reserved for female officers,” it says. “There are no cadre positions for DIGs and Senior DIGs in the same.”

The Petitioners made representations to relevant authorities, including the former Inspector General of Police N.K. Illangakoon, who is cited as a respondent. They were assured of redress. However, a list containing only the names of male officers had been sent to the Ministry of Law and Order for promotion to the rank of SP Grade II.

The petitioners state that they have fulfilled all the qualifications to be promoted to the rank of SP Grade II. “However, reserving mere two cadre vacancies for women in SP Grade II prevents the Petitioners and other qualified women police officers being considered for promotions,” they plead.

Given the number of vacancies allocated to male officers, all male officers with prescribed qualifications will be promoted to SP Grade II.

The Petitioners state that the scheme of promotion is flawed inasmuch as it structurally and/or effectively discriminates against women officers without any justification whatsoever, particularly in promotions to SP Grade II and above.

“The Petitioners should be provided with the equal opportunity to be promoted to the rank of SP and other ranks above it, if they possess the required qualifications and service experience,” they hold. “The intentional limitation of females being promoted to the rank of SP and above is discouraging and in frustration to the legitimate expectations of the Petitioners.”

The Petitioners request the Court to, among other things, declare that, in the Police Service, women officers are entitled to the same promotions as male officers in the same cadre without discrimination. The case will be considered on May 9.

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