Liberia's national police force (LNP) has begun an intensive recruitment program across the country aimed at women. The effort is part of the government's Poverty Reduction Strategy, which calls for women to make up 20 percent of the police, the army, and other security forces by the end of 2013.
Gender-based violence, including sexual assault, has long been a problem in Liberia. The police have been criticized in the past for poor management of the cases.
The LNP says it now hopes to improve its response to gender-based violence by recruiting more women to work in their Women and Children Protection Unit, where officers are specifically trained to handle cases related to sexual abuse and domestic violence.
LNP spokesperson Sam Collins says while several women currently hold high-level positions within the LNP, only 10 percent of the police force are women. He said they want to double that number by the end of the year.
"To meet that benchmark, we have launched a very massive recruitment program for women," Collins explained. "We have divided the country into four regions to make sure we cut across the entire country in having females sign up for the LNP.
In addition to deploying recruitment officers, Collins said they have also launched public awareness campaigns in markets, schools and other public places, as well as broadcast-radio programs, to encourage women to join the LNP.
"The process may be a bit slow, because we have to go out there to convince people, to tell them that they have a new career in joining the LNP as a way forward," Collins said, noting that recruiting women is not easy. "The LNP will transform them into becoming a positive headmate in their home, meaning that they have a new career to earn money and they will not become a maid in their home. In terms of supporting their husband, they will have income. So we spread the message telling them to come transform their lives in the LNP."
Not all women need convincing though.
"I came to join the police because I would like to be able to help my country," explained Pauline Myers, 19, a recent high school graduate. "Right now, there are no jobs in the country. I am a high school graduate so I came to join the police today. I am going through the process to join the Liberian National Police. I hope I will be successful."
Collins said that all women between the age of 18 and 25 who are high school graduates with a clean criminal record are eligible to join the LNP.
He said once the women sign up, they must pass an interview, medical tests and physical fitness standards before being accepted to the police force.
The LNP said it plans to run the recruitment program through the end of August.