Jakarta Globe | Insight

How Indonesian Policewomen Succeed in Men’s World

Jakarta. Protecting citizens, maintaining order and security may sound masculine, but women also take part the process as police officers.

However, even though their duties, competencies and achievements are the same as their male peers — they are detectives, they guard traffic, they are in charge of other policemen — in patriarchal society their role in the eyes of the public is often reduced to physical appearance.

Policewomen who guard protest rallies, for example, are usually praised for their looks rather than work — a very misleading approach, given the importance of their job as negotiators who can prevent escalation.

“We deploy them to negotiate,” National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. M. Iqbal told the Jakarta Globe recently.

Women by nature are more patient, less aggressive.

“We are not exploiting them, policewomen are just more effective [in such situations]. They have a double function … they are effective at negotiating, because they are more caring and soft-spoken, but they can also be more assertive than their male counterparts,” he said.

There are still very few women in the National Police, only 12,000 out of 430,000, and most of them work in sub-districts. In some regions, however, they cannot be deployed, as they could face sexual abuse.

“[In those regions] being a policewoman is a threat,” National Police spokeswoman Chief Comr. Sri Suari Wahyudi told the Globe, adding that such dangers occur in parts of East Nusa Tenggara.

To be successful in this male-dominated environment, policewomen must uphold the spirit of sisterhood, support each other and protect. The bond is established as early as during their first training together, said Sri, former Bantul Police office chief and former head of the police at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

The highest rank policewomen have so far reached in Indonesia is that of a two-star general. One of them is Basaria Panjaitan, a commissioner at the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). The highest office held by a woman so far was of a provincial police head — Brig. Gen. Rumiah served as Banten police chief in 2008-10.

Women and Child Protection Unit

Between 2009 and 2012, Police recruited 7,000 policewomen to the Women’s and Child Protection Unit. Most of them have been deployed to sub-districts across the country.

“The unit is dominated by women, although there also male officers. Policewomen are more open, which works especially when more psychological approach is needed,” Iqbal explained.

Policemen who are members of the unit must be gender-sensitive, Sri said. Although they receive training in human rights to become officers, one’s sensitivity to gender issues is deeply embedded in his upbringing and background.


By putting women at the frontlines of mass demonstrations, the National Police takes advantage of the patriarchal culture, knowing that rallying men will feel ashamed and will watch their own steps more if they are approached or chided by women. Women’s higher emotional intelligence is also needed in other situations where tensions may run high.

“Women are just more communicative, they can empathize better than their male counterparts,” Sri said.

Women also tend to be more perceptive when it comes to detecting whether a protest is genuine or staged.

Apart from this, policewomen are deployed to deal with the same cases as men do, including high-risk crimes such as hostage taking and terrorism, although their presence is more significant in deradicalization and preventive programs. They are also always involved in humanitarian operations.

“Policewomen handle drug-related offenses, but in terrorism cases they are not in the core groups, unless female terrorists are involved,” said Iqbal, adding that there are no policewomen in the National Police’s counterterrorism unit Densus 88.


Policewomen are natural born detectives. They often lead undercover operations. Male and female representation in this field is almost equal, Sri said.

“Many women detectives work undercover, on drug cases, sexual violence. Most of the crimes that require undercover operations can be handled by policewomen because of their ability to camouflage, they are good actors.”

Sri herself took part in many undercover operations, involving drug syndicates and human trafficking.

Male-Dominated Environment

Working in a male-dominated environment poses many challenges. Policewomen need to make a double effort to reach the same positions as their male colleagues.

“The main challenge, the center of gravity, is in the culture … It’s all about the fight, because in this patriarchal culture we need to double our efforts to reach the same place as men,” Sri said, adding that women first have to face numerous psychological and social barriers, before they embark on achieving their goals.

“That’s why women are better survivors. God made us tougher individuals,” she said.

Chief Comr. Sri Suari Wahyudi (JG Photo/Telly Nathalia)

Already at the Police Academy, women are warned that insults and gender-based discrimination may be present in their careers.

Sometimes also male superiors treat female subordinates as their daughters, they are overprotective, which according to Sri cripples the young officers’ capacity to improve.

“That’s why, from the very beginning, policewomen are taught to have high self-confidence. When they are discriminated through overprotection, like told to go home earlier, for example, we train them to question such decisions: ‘Why? I am able, I am capable.'”

On the other hand, there can be harassment, which is not rare and which most often comes from senior male colleagues.

“We tell them: “If you shake hands and then they [men] tickle your palm with their fingers, you must ask them: ‘What’s wrong with your hands?’ Look into his eyes, so that he won’t repeat it. If it happens twice, then you ask him again: ‘Is there a problem?’ Do it in front of everyone,” said Sri, who has been training policewomen for 11 years now.

Harassment usually starts with words and should be stopped there.

“You must show that you don’t like such acts. How? [By saying] ‘I’m sorry I have to leave the room because I feel uncomfortable’ and then leave. You can do it politely,” Sri advised.

Openness is exceptionally important, especially toward other female officers.

“Senior policewomen must protect their juniors, who in turn must share [whatever happens] with their seniors,” Sri added.

Policewomen Today

Women have been allowed to enroll in the Police Academy since 1998. Previously, they could join the National Police either after senior high school and become non-commissioned officers or after university and become commissioned officers.

Some of the first female graduates of the academy in Semarang, Central Java, are now commissioners — the police’s equivalent of a major in the military.

For the sake of gender equality, the special division for policewomen no longer exists. It was dissolved during the same process by which the National Police were separated from the Indonesian Military in 2000.

“It was decideed that there should be no difference in the treatment of men and women,” Sri said.


Additional reporting by Sheany.