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Arresting developments: what female police officers in Dubai think of their abilities

A new study in a British academic journal asked female police officers in Dubai what they thought of their jobs, their skills and their duties.
Female Emirati police officers in Dubai in November 2013. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images
Female Emirati police officers in Dubai in November 2013. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Anna Zacharias reports on a new study of women police officers in Dubai and finds cultural expectations are both fulfilled and challenged by the subjects’ perceptions

Dubai’s police women are every bit as good as their male peers. So say Dubai’s female police officers, in a study published last month by the British Journal of Criminology.

The study, Self Efficacy Beliefs and Preferred Gender Role in Policing, examines women’s self-perceptions of their ability to perform as effectively as their male counterparts.

The surveys and analysis of 278 female police officers in Dubai was performed by Dr Mohammed ­Murad, of the Dubai Police, and Dr Doris Chu, a criminologist at Arkansas State University who worked as a senior police supervisor at the Taipei City Police Department in Taiwan. This work, funded by a Middle East Studies Grant from Arkansas State University, builds on Dr Chu’s previous studies on ­female officers’ self-perception from a cross-cultural perspective.

Women’s self-perception matters. Not only does it affect on-the-job performance and adaptations to change, positive self-perception creates greater participation.

Since the first batch of 17 women joined the Dubai Police in 1977, the number has increased to more than 1,400 female officers, who serve at all levels as patrol officers, VIP bodyguards, human trafficking investigators, dog handlers and forensic experts. Despite their rise through the ranks, women account for fewer than one in 10 of the force’s 15,000 qualified police personnel.

“As more women now join police forces in a number of the countries in the Middle East, such as the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan, it is important to expand our understanding of women police’s perceptions about their roles in police work in this understudied region, so culturally and socially different from the west,” write the authors.

“Understanding how police­women perceive their role and what assignments they prefer to have in policing is important, since these preferences may effect their job satisfaction, commitment and ­retention.”

Western models traditionally identify six linear stages of female integration into police enforcement, from entry and participation in gender-restricted roles to integration in diverse roles and the eventual balancing of gender in police work.

The Dubai study, like those conducted in Bahrain by Staci Strobl, an associate professor of criminal justice in New York who specialises in woman policing in the Gulf, suggests a more nuanced approach is better suited to the region. Female officers themselves do not always prefer a fully integrated role, often favouring gender-specific jobs where women handle female offenders and victims.

Integration need not be a zero-sum choice. “A hybrid model, featuring coexistence of gender integration and gender segregation, may more plausibly explain policewomen’s gender role orientation in a cultural setting like Dubai’s,” the study says.

The survey, conducted in November 2011, looks at three aspects: appropriateness (whether or not respondents considered police work an appropriate occupation for women), efficacy (whether women were as effective as men) and physical capability. Questions specific to patrol work were asked.

An additional section asked whether women should perform gender-specific roles. The study found high levels of female confidence unusual in male-dominated professions, with 76 per cent of respondents ­believing that a woman could perform as well as a man and 72 per cent believing that women are as ­capable as men in patrol work.

Out of all those who responded, three in five believe women can perform the same duties as male officers. However, four in five favour gender-specific roles, in which women police are assigned to handle women victims or women offenders and children. Those who have served for longer are more receptive than male officers to identical assignments and those with higher education are more favourable to non-gender restrictive assignments.

Women who work patrol or in criminal investigation are more likely to have positive appraisals of women in policing than those assigned to desk work and consider women physically capable to perform a variety of duties. “By witnessing their own capability at work, these women are more likely to embrace full gender integration and to accept the same assignment duties as men,” says the study.

The findings of this study cannot be generalised to rural areas of the Emirates or other parts of the Middle East. Indeed, women’s integration varies greatly from emirate to emirate. While female patrol work is well established in Dubai, there are no female patrol officers in Ras Al Khaimah.

The authors suggest future studies on male perceptions and in-depth interviews with women to understand positive and negative work experiences.

“In what circumstances, at what times have they felt excluded?” asks the study. “Such information can assist police administration in creating a woman-friendly environment for work, which would be likely to encourage more women to enter the field of law enforcement.”

Anna Zacharias is a features writer for The National.

azacharias@thenational.ae

Updated: April 10, 2014 04:00 AM

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