Gender and security sector reform is an established sub-field of security sector reform that is both theoretical and realistic. Security sector reform is an absolute framework in which part or all states’ security sector go through a process of transformation for the purpose of being in relations with values like good governance and the rule of law. In general, the security sector is understood to encompass the collective of security agencies responsible for internal and external security. These institutions empowered with the legal right to bear arms on behalf of the state, including military forces, police and other law enforcement agencies. The security sector also embraces other actors that take part in a role of supervision, design and execution of security which include: line ministries, civil society organizations and legislative bodies. This paper looks at overlapping challenges faced by the Malawi Police Service in its reform series.
The Malawi National Security Policy launched in August 2017, defined Security Sector Reform as “a process to reform or rebuilds a state’s security sector. It responds to a situation in which a dysfunctional security sector is unable to provide security to the state and its people effectively and under democratic principles”. Reforms in security sector address gender problems that can generally be detrimental to the security sector’s image. Revees and Baden (2000) defines Gender as “the socially determined ideas and practices of what it is to be female or male”. In this argument, the term police refer to “the civil force of a state, responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order, as per Oxford English Dictionary (2003)”. Besides, Groenewald and Peake, (2004), describe Police reform as “the transformation or change of a police organization into a professional and accountable police service practicing a style of policing that is responsive to the needs of local communities (Ibid)”.
In view of the challenges which relate to reforms in police, one of the challenges is that the police have often perpetrated violent crimes, include rape and sexual assault, against community members, which leads to high rates of distrust. In such scenarios, it may be hard to recruit women and reporting on Gender Based Violence tends to be low. For example, when police officers have been assigned to conduct sweeping exercise, women who are detained in the process are forced to have sex with the officers so that they be released immediately. In adding up, cases of discrimination and sexual harassment in the force have not been adequately addressed. According to UNMIT, sexual nuisance is a serious concern and a deterrent for women when assigned to the field in the districts, especially if they are assigned as the only women among male counterparts. However, ensuring that police employees operate within a clear and unambiguous legislative and legal framework is essential. That structure defines the parameters within which police functions (Montes and Vial, 2006).
Furthermore, the additional challenge in police reforms indicates that national police often work in difficult conditions without proper equipment and with poor pay, while still being expected to carry out their changing mandates, frequently resulting in reluctance to prioritize reform processes, including gender reforms. This has a serious impact and oftentimes leads to the use of excessive force against particular faction in their delivery of service more especially in public operations. For example, the unnecessary application of force on 20th July, 2011 which caused deaths of minority groups and indigenous peoples who were in the course of addressing their grievances to the government through demonstrations, this occurred because of inadequate equipment meant for dispersing rioters. This as well indicates that police reforms are being confronted (Hanggi, 2003: pp.4-8).
As far as challenges in police reforms are concerned, police institutions are often suspicious of civil society organizations and are reluctant to work with them and this poses to be a different challenge. Reforms have been proved failure particularly basing on the sour relationship between the police and civil society organizations. For instance, just recently, in Lilongwe civil society organizations organized a country wide demonstration to petition the president on different issue which matters most for the citizenry. In the course of their action, police blocked them access to deliver the petition document at Capital Hill. However, such development demonstrates that some members of the security services, police in particular, may oppose reforms for several ideological and political reasons. Finally, commitment to gender-responsive police reform diminishes as crime begins to rise and police return to oppressive ways of addressing crime, disadvantaging certain groups in the general public comprise an ultimate challenge.
These days, crime is on increase, equally men and women are caught up in serious criminal syndicates. This has prompted the police to resort to force in attempt to deal away with crime. For example, a man and a lady were found in possession of human body parts in Lilongwe. In a related affair, armed robbers exchanged fire with the police at Amina House round about, Paul Kagame Road in which one police officer was shot dead and the other one sustained serious live bullets wounds and eventually the criminals went away with forty million kwacha cash belonging to Petroda Limited Company. They are such cases that have made reforms to diminish in Police and the law enforcement is now in full use of force in order to trim down crime rate.