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Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir: "We need women in the police because half of our clients are women"

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Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir: "We need women in the police because half of our clients are women"

Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir: "We need women in the police because half of our clients are women"
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Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir is the head of the Reykjavík Police Department in Iceland since 2014. She has been fighting hard against gender discrimination in the police force, where she says there are not enough women on the field or in managerial positions, in an interview with euronews reporter Valérie Gauriat.

Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir:

“It has been a male dominant profession, this is not the only country, we have an exceptionally low female participation. We had 86 percent male police officers when I came. And last year we managed to crawl up to 22 percent of women, which was done by trying to recruit women. Also we have been trying to put women in the managerial posts as well. That’s something we are working on. We have done some initiatives for example when women have children, we try to give them a year to adapt when they come back. Because we don’t want to lose them to investigation, we want to keep them on the street as well. It’s important to have women on the street, women police officers.

We have to mirror the society, as a service entity

And we are working on the culture. There was a very mind blowing survey in 2013 where up to 30 percent of the women believed they had been sexually harassed in the police. Almost always by a superior. So we have been working with that and now we’re doing follow up , research getting recommendations on how to deal with this. We’re putting this on the agenda, I’m trying to invest in this. And find the spots for experienced women who maybe have not gotten the high road to the higher positions in the police and trying to adapt that they are different.

I myself took interviews with male and female candidates for certain posts. And it was very strange. It was so obvious how the sexes are different. Not better or worse, just different. The women always talk themselves down. And the men talk themselves up. It was so evident. So we need to make a plan for the women. So that they begin early to prepare for the next post and the next post. Because they don’t prepare until they are completely secure and they know everything in their current post and then they think about the next. But the men they do it earlier, it’s just part of the progress, sort of in the DNA. I’m not saying it’s bad, I’m saying women should be more like men in this area. Start to prepare and look into the future and make a plan and that’s what we want to do with them.

Valérie Gauriat:

You said it was important for women to be on the field, why?

Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir:

Because we have to mirror the society. We are a service entity. We are trying to change our image and our approach, and how people sense us, or communicate with us. So that we are going from the old power organisation, the hierarchical organisation to an organisation that is more flat an structured where we can go faster, we can float between areas where there’s most to do. And we definitely need women because half of our clients are women.

When I started this in 2002, the clients were mostly the criminals. And both the police and the clients were in agreement that they did not want to continue this communication, the clients did not want to meet us again… We have redefined that. Our clients are not the criminals only, they are part of that. But mostly it is the community, that wants to be secure. We cannot just wait and expect everyone to come to us on our terms. We have to give service on other terms. For instance we have been taking violence against women very seriously. It’s a project we started in 2014 and we started from 22 reports on a monthly basis, to about 60 now. That’s not an increase in domestic violence, it’s an increase of reports we are getting, we are being called into the situations.

Valérie Gauriat:

Do you think the fact of bringing more women into the police force can change the efficiency, and the perception?

Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir:

“Absolutely. It changes a lot. Half of the people we are servicing are women. I think both men and women have strengths and weaknesses, we are not all the same. Were not all the same as individuals. We need diversity in the police, we need to do that to understand. And we are incredibly lucky, we had a very big rise in the trust towards the police last year, it went up to 85 percent. We’ve never seen a number like that before.”