Female Inspectors of Police (IPs) are being barred from applying for promotion because there are “no vacancies” for women in the Chief Inspector (CI) rank — a sign of persistent structural gender discrimination in the 150-year-old department. Now 40 of them have lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) saying [...]


There can never be a woman IGP in Sri Lanka

Female police officers' promotions hit by gender discrimination

Female Inspectors of Police (IPs) are being barred from applying for promotion because there are “no vacancies” for women in the Chief Inspector (CI) rank — a sign of persistent structural gender discrimination in the 150-year-old department.

Now 40 of them have lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) saying they were twice denied the chance to advance to CI rank, violating their right to equality guaranteed in the country’s constitution.

One-hundred-and-twenty women joined the police force in 1997 as Sub-Inspectors (SIs). Some were promoted as IPs in 2003 and 2006 but have stagnated in the same rank for 15-12 years while multiple male inspectors with a minimum of eight years of service have climbed the ladder.

The reason is that women IPs are discouraged from even trying for a promotion on the grounds that there are no openings in the female CI cadre. Advancement in the Police Department is separated by gender — not purely on merit and performance — and is dependent on cadre positions. This has mostly affected women because of a refusal to increase slots available to them at senior level.

The problem affects other ranks, too. Till the end of 2016, there were only two openings in the 85,000-strong police force for women in Superintendent of Police (SP) Grade II; that year, it was increased to four. There were 15 cadre vacancies for women Assistant Superintendents of Police (ASP); this was raised by just one to 16.

There is no career progression beyond the rank of SP, except to reach the sole SSP chair set aside for women. There are no cadre positions for women DIGs and Senior DIGs. There can never be a woman Inspector General of Police (IGP).

In 2016, several women ASPs took the matter to the Supreme Court. The case drags on with the Police Department repeatedly asking for dates. The fundamental rights petition seeks an increase in cadre positions to females from ranks of SP and above. The petitioners are from the same batch of SIs who joined in 1997. But they had managed to edge into the available slots by sitting competitive exams.

The petitions point to “unfair and inexplicable discrimination” against female police officers despite them performing duties similar to their male counterparts and counting the same number of years in service. Owing to the number of vacancies allocated to male policemen, those with the prescribed qualifications will rise to SP Grade II.

The women say that their appeals to everyone from the IGP downwards have brought no result. They should be provided with equal opportunity to be promoted to SP and above if they have the required qualifications and service experience. “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,” they hold.

Since the case went to court, some petitioners were promoted to SP Grade II–but not without the intervention of the National Police Commission (NPC). The independent body directed the department to increase the number of vacancies in the SP grade. It was then that two more slots were added. However, this was still not sufficient to accommodate all the qualified women officers.

Again on the directives of the NPC, the Police Department combined the four SP vacancies and 16 ASP slots and created a common cadre of 20 to facilitate the appointment of 10 women SPs and one woman ASP. But by no means is the solution satisfactory or permanent, says NPC member Savithree Wijesekara who has long been pushing for gender equality in the Police Department. The male cadre is not amalgamated; they periodically increase the number of slots when the need arises.

And none of the women SPs — whose promotions became effective more than one year after they were due — has been made division heads as is their entitlement. There are other injustices: In November 2008, three female and 17 male graduates were directly recruited to the police force as ASPs on the same gazette. While the men have a clear path of career advancement, the women, despite occupying senior seats at a younger age, have nowhere to go beyond SP.

In 2006, the Cabinet decreed that 15 percent of recruitment to the police force must be women. It did not specify the rank. The department has attempted to comply but has not made provision for promotions. “They are essentially being recruited without any thought to their future,” said an officer who wished to remain anonymous.

The latest case — IP to CI promotions — could also end up in court. Applications were last called in May this year. Division Heads were even instructed to alert any IPs who away on UN peacekeeping missions, serving interdictions, on prolonged sick leave or assigned on special duty that applications were open. Women were not considered. The announcement alluded throughout only to men: “niladharin”, not “niladharinian”. And all female IPs were told by their superiors that they need not bother applying.

Promotions were announced, too, in December 2014. That circular said applications are not invited from female IPs because there were no openings in their CI cadre — notwithstanding the fact that several women satisfied the criteria, had been recruited and trained on the same basis as their male counterparts and had performed similar duties.

Applications had also been called in 2012. Again, women were denied their chance. Around 20 of them who defied instructions to submit their documents were rejected. The women IPs have told the HRCSL that it was unbecoming of a disciplined service such as the police force to disregard seniority. This was one reason why standards were sliding. “Furthermore,” they add, “staying in the same rank for 15-12 years have caused us to become demoralised.” They want a promotion scheme that does not discriminate on gender; and for the same practice to be adopted for women IPs as for men, without taking into consideration the approved cadre.

“It is 21 years since we joined the Police Department,” said one IP, requesting anonymity. “We have received only one promotion in all those years. Around 20 of us retired because we were dejected. There are only 15 women CIs in the 85,000-strong police force. In 150 years, there has been no female Headquarters Inspector. We are not given even a small station to command.”

“The problem is that there has been a cadre although, historically, there is no documentation to support this,” Ms Wijesekara said. “We don’t know where it started but it has come down. So there are a specified number of slots for men and women. In the CI cadre, for instance, they have 96 men to 15 women.”
The NPC has pushed for an increase in slots for women. It recently secured a pledge that the number of CI slots for them would be raised to 66. “But we have given a proposal that there must be a 15 percent across-the-board increase in the cadre for women at every level,” Ms Wijesekara said. “If it succeeds, that would be a start.”

Police Spokesman ASP Ruwan Gunasekara confirmed that there are now 66 slots — with 51 of them currently vacant — for women CIs. “The department hopes to call interviews in the near future to fill those vacancies,” he said.

Still, the campaign has been long and progress, slow. “As you know,” said one officer, “it’s a real boy’s club in there.” When it comes to promotions, the IGP — known to hold a progressive stance on female advancement — consults his male Senior DIGs and “nothing much happens”.

The NPC, Mrs Wijesekara maintained, had no authority to compel the IGP to act on its directives. “While the 19th Amendment does give us a lot of powers, there is a vacuum or question mark there,” she observed. The Commission has to ask the IGP to do it. He is the implementer.”

The attitude of the Police Department towards women in their ranks is neither modern nor enlightened. And it feeds a cycle. “Women are reluctant to apply when there is no chance of promotion or equal opportunity,” Ms Wijesekara pointed out. “”But most women who talk to me can do any man’s job.”
The IGP, she said, is willing. During his time, the police force got seven women SPs, something not seen in the past 25 years. “There must, however, be political will,” she asserted. “This has to be formalised. You cannot be waging a battle every year.”

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