Half a century of advancing women’s role in police: Meet Kiran Bedi, the first Indian and the first woman to head the UN Police Division
In 1972, Kiran Bedi was the first woman in India to join the officer ranks of the Indian Police Service (IPS) — a first of many firsts in her career. From running non-profit organisations (NGOs) to heading police units, and crushing opponents on the tennis court, Kiran Bedi aces it all. Shortly after joining the IPS, Bedi won the President’s Police Medal in 1979. The reforms she introduced in the prison sector as Inspector General in Delhi won her the Ramson Magsaysay award in 1994.
Inspiring generations of women, Kiran Bedi became the first Indian and first woman appointed as the United Nations Police Adviser and head of the Police Division in 2003.
UN Peacekeeping and UN Police interviewed Ms. Bedi during Women’s History Month (March) to find out more about what drives her and her message for young women today.
“At that time, I didn’t know that I was going to be the first woman in India to join the police officer ranks of the Indian Police Service. I didn’t join to be the first. I became the first, it happened to be like that,” she said. It took Bedi’s impeccable self-discipline and resilience to succeed.
As a young woman living in a changing India in the 50’s and 60’s, Bedi wanted to fight injustice and empower others. Policing was one way of ensuring that the law applies to all, making an example of Indira Gandhi, then Prime Minister of India, to whom she famously issued a parking ticket.
“I would tell women [wanting to join] law enforcement to be prepared for what they want. Educate, train, and play competitive sports as in school. Plan and choose a career, and keep upskilling.”
“Women are specially gifted. (..) They forge teamwork wherever they go, they add compassion in workplaces. (…) Remain courageous and remain fearless.”
Bedi was a trailblazer, but UNPOL is determined to ensure that she doesn’t remain an exception.
“Today you can’t do any policing without women. I think the credit for this goes to the United Nations exclusively. All (the) conventions have secured the position of a woman, highlighted her role,” she said, attributing her own appointment to the landmark UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS).
It is the first resolution that recognized women’s leadership to achieve international peace and security and their contributions to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding. The implementation of women, peace and security priorities is a key political commitment in the Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, which also called for an expansion of the role and contribution of women in peacekeeping operations. Promoting the participation of women, both in peacekeeping and within the societies in which we serve, is at the centre of UN efforts.
On that front, UNPOL, is a trailblazer as well. Its uniformed gender parity strategy (2018–2028) is making headway: UN Police has already achieved the gender parity objectives slated for 2025, with women making up 30% of uniformed police personnel. While Bedi was a pioneer, many women have now reached top positions within UNPOL as police commissioners and senior police advisers. As mentioned by United Nations Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division, Police Commissioner Luís Carrilho, during a Facebook live event that marked International Women’s Day: “(We) are firmly committed to advancing gender equality. I am proud to say that six out of the nine heads of police components are currently senior women police officers.”
In addition to dedication and perseverance, Kiran Bedi also acknowledges the role played by her family in her success. Growing up in a supportive environment, she had the full backing of her family to pursue the career of her choice. Today, she wants to channel the same energy into supporting future generations.
“I will do whatever it takes to inspire the youth to be responsible citizens and leaders in nation-building,” she says.