An Epitome of Insecurities!
In a country which gave its women the voting right as far back as in 1931 by becoming the first country in Asia to do so and became the first to elect a woman Head of Government worldwide, 33 men have come forward to challenge a promotion given to a woman who was celebrated as the first Deputy Inspector General of Sri Lanka Police on mere grounds that the word ‘women’ is not mentioned in the regulations pertaining to relevant cadre position. The second reason acting DIG Bimshani Jasin Arachchi does not qualify to hold the position, as stated by the petitioners, is the fact that she falls behind the required height 5’6’’ – a specification that deems discriminatory and systematically block qualified women from applying for the position and from being promoted – given the average height of women in Sri Lanka being lesser.
While it is not always a smooth path for women to climb up the ladder in their respective careers where they have to fight sticky floors and glass ceilings, the gender discrimination in Sri Lanka Police is exceptionally remarkable.
There are 8,878 women officers in the Police. Of these, 8,099 or 91.2% of officers are non-gazetted officers in the ranks of Constables and Sergeants (10.7% of the total cadre). Of the 779 gazetted officers, 769 are junior gazetted officers in the ranks of Chief Inspector (CI), Inspector of Police (IP), and Sub Inspector of Police (SI) (1% of the total cadre), while only 10 women are senior gazetted officers (0.01% of the total cadre) in the ranks of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and Superintendent of Police (SP). No woman has been promoted beyond the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), a report published under the title of ‘Achieving Gender Equality in the Sri Lanka Police: An Analysis of Women Officers’ published in 2019 states.
When women are recruited to the Police service, they undergo the same entrance tests as men including the endurance test. However, the height specification when recruiting officers at the rank of Constable and SI are different for women and men, but becomes the same when recruiting to the rank of ASP. Men and women officers have to undergo the basic mandatory training sessions when joining the Police as Constables, which includes endurance, physical, as well as weapons training. However, women’s performance in the initial endurance examination has been cited as a reason for holding them back from being promoted beyond the rank of SSP.
There is a common perception that women who join the Police service do not have any other employment options and join the Police service as a last resort. There is also a perception that women who have educational qualifications do not want to join the Police service as they would aspire to more prestigious and less demanding jobs considered more suitable for women. A survey conducted jointly by the National Police Commission, UNDP and Centre for Women’s Research challenged both these assumptions as more than 70% of women joined the Police because of personal preference.
Minister of Public Security Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara recently said, it is a source of inspiration to the Sri Lanka Police Department to find a female officer functioning as a DIG. The Minister added that he was personally feeling disappointed over the issue and wondered whether any loss of reputation has been caused to Bimshani Jasin Arachchi over an FR case being filed against her recent job promotion.
The move by 33 petitioners not only causes a loss of reputation to the woman officer in question but for the entire Police service and Sri Lanka as a country, given the fact that countries around the world are moving forward encouraging gender equality and the fact that its closest neighbour India raised its bar higher by giving the recognition to a third gender.
Despite the outcome of the FR case, the case emphasises the need of Sri Lanka Police as well as Government taking necessary steps to remove all barriers that preclude women from moving to the highest ranks of the SriLanka Police, abolish the separation of the cadre into a ‘woman’s cadre’ and introduce a merit-based system for promotions of men and women.