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The History of The Women Role in The Police

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It has been over a hundred years since the first woman entered the police profession in Canada. Prior to 1970’s responsible mainly for social services and matron duties, over the past years women advanced into formal integration into police organization. Despite their official integration and organizational improvements, the number of female police officers in Canada still remain relatively low compared to their male counterparts. The importance of female gender redistribution in policing is crucial in the contemporary policing for the effective functioning of the police organization. It allows the organization to be inclusive and by hiring more female officers is able to effectively address and meet the needs of the fellow gender and reflect the gender differences. Female presence in the law enforcement allows for a shift from a hyper-masculine occupation towards more empathy focused and better interaction with the community.

The aim of this paper is to draw attention to the history of women in policing: how the role of the female as police officer changed and advanced since the first women entered the Toronto Police force in 1888. I will further analyze the number of women in policing, recruitment issues and differences in experiences between male and female police officers. As well, I will touch on the current issues such as: harassment and discrimination, work-related stress and the motherhood obstacles that women in police are facing. The police organization have undergone an enormous change in the gender area since the first Police departments have been created, however issues encountered by female police officers, thus improved, have not fully been resolved yet.

The initiation of women in a Police occupation in Canada can be traced back to Social Reform Era between 1800 and 1920s, when social changes brought by industrialization and the influx of migrants from rural areas to the cities resulted in the increased criminal activity and social problems such as alcoholism and homelessness. As a result many women’s organizations were created to address the issues and improve the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution. During that time, there were visible differences between the societal gender roles, where women were seen as “pure”, “nurturing” and “morally conservative”, who was responsible to provide moral comfort and stability in the family. Many of them became concerned about the dangers associated with the growing cities and seeked employment in the public, white and blue collar sectors to address the issues. However perceived as vulnerable, posed a threat to the traditional value of the family and were still unable to overcome gender inequality in the workforce sector.

In opposition to generally held gender biased values and to fight against working conditions, women in Canada finally won the right to vote in 1918. Although structural, ideological and systemic barriers still existed, small attempts were taken by them to overcome it, including in the policing sphere. The passing of Metropolitan Police Act in 1829 in London, England, which created First Modern Police Force, highly influenced the shape of Police organizations in Canada, where the “police was the public and the public was the police.” However it did not reflect the public as it was disproportionately composed, placing most attention to the male individuals. More women started working in Policing in the early 1900s. The first Canadian women to hold an official “police matron” title was Mrs. Whiddon, who began her career in the Toronto Police Force in 1888. Police matrons hd to be in their mid-twenties, educated and were assigned to work with women and children who were arrested and distressed, as well served as a part of the “morality squad” in the city social areas.

Despite the inclusion in the Police Force as matrons, Canadian women started serving as an official “policewoman” in 1912 in Vancouver. A year later Mary Minty and Margaret Leavitt were hired by Toronto Police Department as first official “policewoman”. First “policewoman” did not wear uniforms but were identified by their badges. Women in Canada began to wear uniforms in 1945, which differed from the contemporary ones. They consisted of skirt and a jacket but no hat compared to the male counterparts. However it was not until 1959 in Ontario and 1973 in British Columbia that women were given the right to carry firearms, conduct patrol duties and use police cruisers. Since then, the role and recruitment of women in the Canadian Police force have gone through many changes. Female officers were assigned to more positions and duties that were previously reserved for male officers. Throughout the years the number and treatment of women in Canadian Policing significantly improved and the role expanded, although there is still a long way ahead for Police organizations to reflect Sir Robert Peel’s statement that the “police are the public and the public are the police”.

The role of police officer continues to be perceived as dangerous, male oriented, masculine and aggressive. The recent shift of policing from reactive patrol towards more preventative and community policing, required Police departments to reorganize its role and bring changes in the area of requirements and skills needed to effectively address new modifications. More feminine approach based on empathy, relationship- building, communication and trust needed to be implemented to build long lasting relationships with the communities. Changes in organizational structures, retirement of officers who rejected females as police officers and social and cultural changes in perceptions of gender roles played an important role in expanding Police departments into more inclusive. These changes resulted in more women being recruited into Police organizations in hope to build better connections with civilians and bring feminine, more sensitive traits to it.

Since 1986, where women accounted for only four percent of all sworn police officers in Canada, the number increased up to twenty one percent in 2017. The number also went up on the higher ranks of Police service to fifteen percent in 2017, compared to seven percent in 2007 and only one percent in 1986. There are currently 14, 752 female police officers in Canada, among which 384 are senior officers, 3,369 are non- commissioned officers and 10,999 are constables.

Despite the increasing number of female police officers in Canada, women are still affected by the unequal hiring practices, limiting their successfulness in completing the process. One of the main recruitment phase that women often fail is the physical fitness testing, where men outperform them, especially during tests which incorporate upper body strength. Police departments place great attention to the physical strength and abilities that potential recruiters possess. Another old fashioned factor contributing to difficult recruitment is that Police organization is still considered as a male-dominated culture, masculinity oriented that lacks soft traits and values, thus makes it an obstacle in obtaining a job for a woman. Police culture and academies are not women friendly, often creating a sense of exclusion combined with gender harassment and discrimination. Finally, there is relatively lower number of women applying for the job in policing comparing to men. Male dominated police culture lacks family-oriented policies, which highly influence women decisions about applying for policing. Maternity and sick leave, schedule rotations and benefits need to be improved to attract more females into the Police force.

When on duty, police officers experience variety of encounters with public, during which visible differences between both men and women interactions exist. According to Pew Research Center Survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform women on a field patrol were less likely than men to physically struggle with the resisting arrest suspect. Six out of ten female police officers were verbally assaulted, while sixty-nine percent of men claimed the same. When it comes to use of force, female officers are less likely to agree to the necessity of its use and are less likely to report using a weapon outside of the gun range, comparing to their male counterparts: eleven percent of women versus thirty percent of men. When it comes to personal feelings experienced by police officers, both male and female officers experienced similar amount of pride and frustration, thus women experienced less callousness since working in law enforcement than men.

Although there are many similarities and differences between men and women in police organizations, women are more likely than man to experience work-related stress due to sexual harassment and face more difficulties related to motherhood. Research confirms that women who work in male-dominated professions are more likely to experience harassment at work. It is the most prevalent issue faced by female police officers. A survey conducted by National Center for Women in Policing in thirty five countries, reveals that seventy seven percent of serving female officers experienced some form of sexual harassment by their male colleagues while at work. Other forms of inappropriate behaviour such as: name calling, affectionate terms, sexists jokes or putdowns were also practiced by male counterparts. Not only sexual harassment but the nature of Police organizations which are not female- friendly can be the main source of work-related stress for women in policing.

Patriarchal structure of Police settings can overemphasize masculinity and segregate females through actions and interactions within its departments, which is often used to prevent their inclusion in the law enforcement occupation. Socially accepted practice of masculine restriction to show emotions, thus erasing feminine behaviour traits is often an impediment.

Another stressor affecting female officers is the shift work and irregular hours that makes it difficult to maintain work- family life. Women experience high levels of stress trying to manage police work, while being a mother. Many face difficulties that comes with the changes in life priorities that affects their work and family. Women often experience guilt while trying to live up to the “good mother” standards, while being a full-time police officer. As mothers female officers often feel marginalized within the organization, where they are perceived as unable to deal with high-risk situations. Moreover, research that have looked at policing and parenting revealed that many women believed that admitting that child care disables them to work overtime, would perceive them as unfit for the police occupation by their male counterparts.

In conclusion, Police occupation have been an ongoing struggle for women who deemed to pursue a career in policing. From Industrial Revolution followed by the women’s right to vote in 1918, women successfully climbed the occupational ladder, that allowed them to integrate in the law enforcement field. However, since entering the Police force, women were highly underrepresented, discriminated and excluded from the patriarchal structure of Police organizations. From the role of matrons limited to social work, advanced to “policewoman” and assigned more duties, finally became a police officer. Becoming a police officer was not free from challenges due to organizational structures of police departments and recruitment obstacles that favoured men over women. Being hired as a female police officer is linked with a variety of outcomes that differ their encounters from male counterparts. As a result women are less physically and verbally assaulted when making arrests and use less amount of force during encounters. More feminine approach and traits are not free from the work-related stress, sexual harassment and difficulties to maintain work and family life, placing women in a disadvantaged position. Being a female police officer and a mother often results in excluding women from the full participation in the law enforcement and duties associated with this, leaving them feel marginalized. Although integration and recruitment of women in the police force changed and improved since the first women entered the police occupation, more attention need to be placed on the patriarchal treatment and discrimination of female police officers and improvements made to attract more women into the law enforcement and finally reflect the Peel’s principle that “the police is the public and the public is the police”.

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The History of the Women Role in the Police. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 22, 2022, from
“The History of the Women Role in the Police.” GradesFixer, 30 Aug. 2022,
The History of the Women Role in the Police. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2022].
The History of the Women Role in the Police [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Aug 30 [cited 2022 Sept 22]. Available from:
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