Police Institution: Inequality, unfair treatment and resultant poor mental health of women police officers


By Onyinye Eberendu

The police force plays a critical role in maintaining law and order in society and the issue of gender inequality within the police force is a pressing concern that has far-reaching consequences. Women serving as police officers not only face systemic discrimination but also endure poor mental health due to the unjust practices prevalent in their work environment. Moreover, the lack of accountability regarding these unfair practices exacerbates the problem and perpetuates a cycle of inequality. Additionally, the lack of accountability for unfair practices further aggravates this issue.

However, it is essential to examine the inequality within this sector, particularly concerning women police officers and women with disabilities.

This article aims to shed light on the correlation between inequality in the police force and the detrimental impact it has on the mental health of women officers and women with disability.

Examining the challenges faced by women officers, along with the impact on their mental well-being, requires a thorough analysis of the factors contributing to systemic inequality. Consequently, understanding the implications of this inequality mandates an examination of how the absence of accountability amplifies these issues. Thus, it becomes crucial to explore the intersectionality between gender inequality, mental health, and unfair practices within the police force.

 Gender Inequality in the Police Force: A Breeding Ground for Mental Health Issues

  • Women officers are confronted with a pervasive glass ceiling, hindering their career progression, and limiting opportunities for advancement
  • They often face discrimination, bias, and unfair treatment, undermining their self-esteem and causing psychological distress.
  • The prevalence of gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles perpetuates inequality within the police for, exacerbating the challenges faced by women officers
  • In male dominated environments, women may experience isolation, harassment, and victimization, leading to heightened stress levels and poor mental health outcomes.

 The Impact of Inequality on Women Officer’s Mental Health

  • Gender-based discrimination negatively affects the mental well-being of women officers, resulting in increased anxiety, depression, and burnout
  • The constant stress from facing both gender inequality and the challenges inherent in policing can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) and other mental health disorders
  • Coping with these mental health issues becomes even more difficult due to limited access to resources and support systems for women officers.

 The Lack of Accountability and Fairness: Compounding the problem

  • The lack of accountability regarding unfair practices within the police force perpetuates a culture of discrimination, bias, and inequality
  • Without consequences for discriminatory behavior, it becomes a systemic issue that is difficult to overcome.
  • Inadequate disciplinary measures contribute to a culture of impunity, where these practices go unchecked and become ingrained within the police force
  • The lack of transparency and the absence of effective mechanisms to address grievances and provide redress for complainants widens the inequality gap
  • This further erodes trust in the institution and discourages women officers from reporting instances of unfair treatment, exacerbating their mental health struggles
  • Women officers may feel discouraged from reporting injustices due to fear of retribution or lack of faith in the system’s responsiveness.
  • The failure to hold individuals accountable for their actions allows unfair practices to persist, ultimately hindering progress towards gender equality and fair practices within the force.

 Gender Inequality and Discrimination

  • Women police officers frequently encounter gender-based discrimination, being subjected to biased treatment and stereotyping, examples of biased treatment may include being denied promotions or assigned less critical tasks, dismissal of female officers who get pregnant outside wedlock and within the two years’ probation period for married female officers, while their male counterpart go unchecked.
  • Stereotyping can lead to women being seen as less capable of handling certain challenges or roles within the force.
  • The underrepresentation of women in senior positions within the police force perpetuates the gender gap and hinders equal opportunities for advancement, e.g. There is no record of a Female officer assuming the role of an Inspector General of Police (IGP), in the history of Nigeria.
  • Women often face barriers when seeking higher ranks, such as a lack of mentoring or support.
  • Women are disproportionately affected by instances of sexual harassment and assault within the police force, which further fuels inequality, such incidents are often not reported due to potential backlash or retaliation which contributes to a toxic workplace environment, and ultimately affects their mental health and well-being.

 Impact of inequality on Mental Health of women police officers

  • The inequality and discrimination faced by women police officers contribute to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression i.e., constant exposure to hostile workplace environments and unfair practices takes a toll on their well-being.
  • The accumulation of daily microaggressions and derogatory remarks can lead to decreased self-esteem and confidence.
  • Limited resources or access to mental health support aggravates the mental health challenges faced by women officers, i.e., insufficient support systems result in inadequate coping mechanisms and increased vulnerability to mental health issues.
  • Poor mental health among women police officers can have severe consequences, including decreased job performance, higher absenteeism rates, and even suicidal tendencies.

 X-raying Women with Disabilities in contrasts with other women in the Police Force

As of my last knowledge update in January 2022, Nigeria has legislation that addresses the rights and concerns of persons with disabilities. The key legislation is the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in January 2019.

According to the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2018, it is mandatory for public institutions to have at least five percent of employees who are Persons with disabilities. Presently, based on available information, the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) says it is working to ensure that the five percent employment reservation is fully implemented for persons with disabilities within the Nigeria Police Force.

The Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act includes provisions aimed at promoting the rights and well-being of individuals with disabilities. Some of the key provisions of the Act include:

  • Non-Discrimination: The Act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities and promotes equal opportunities for them in all aspects of life, including education, employment, and public services.
  • Accessibility: It mandates that public buildings and structures, as well as transportation facilities, should be designed to be accessible to persons with disabilities. This is to ensure that individuals with disabilities can participate fully in society.
  • Right to Health Care: The Act recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to access healthcare services on an equal basis with others.
  • Education: It promotes inclusive education by ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal access to educational institutions.
  • Employment: The Act addresses issues related to the employment of persons with disabilities, including the prohibition of discrimination in the workplace.
  • Political Participation: It recognizes the right of persons with disabilities to participate in political and public life.
  • Legal Capacity: The Act upholds the legal capacity of persons with disabilities, recognizing their right to make decisions for themselves.

It is important to note that the effective implementation of these provisions is crucial for the realization of the rights of persons with disabilities in Nigeria. The government, relevant institutions, and civil society organizations play essential roles in ensuring that the principles of the Act are put into practice.

 Impact of Inequality on women with disabilities

Inequality in the police force can contribute to poor mental health outcomes for women with disabilities. Here are some ways in which this inequality may manifest and impact mental health, along with the challenges related to the lack of accountability for unfair practices:

  • Discrimination and Harassment: Women with disabilities in the police force may experience discrimination and harassment, exacerbating stress and anxiety. This can result from negative attitudes, stereotypes, and biases related to both gender and disability.
  • Limited Career Opportunities: Inequality in access to career opportunities, promotions, and leadership positions can lead to frustration and a sense of stagnation. The perception of being undervalued or overlooked can negatively impact mental well-being.
  • Inadequate Support Systems: The lack of support systems, including reasonable accommodations, accessible facilities, and mental health resources, can contribute to feelings of isolation and a lack of belonging. This absence of necessary support may exacerbate stress and mental health challenges.
  • Workplace Stressors: The nature of police work, combined with a lack of accommodations, can create additional stressors for women with disabilities. The physical demands and potential for high-stress situations may contribute to mental health issues if adequate support is not provided.
  • Isolation and Stigmatization: Women with disabilities may feel isolated or stigmatized due to a lack of understanding and awareness about their needs. This sense of isolation can contribute to feelings of exclusion and negatively impact mental health.
  • Lack of Accountability: The absence of accountability for unfair practices within the police force can perpetuate a culture of discrimination. If there are no consequences for discriminatory behavior, it becomes challenging to address and rectify instances of inequality.
  • Underreporting: Fear of retaliation or a belief that reporting unfair practices will not lead to positive outcomes can result in underreporting of discrimination or harassment. This lack of reporting further contributes to a culture of impunity.

 Addressing these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach:

  • Policy Reforms: Implementing and enforcing policies that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the police force is crucial. These policies should address both gender and disability-related issues.
  • Training and Sensitization Programs: Providing ongoing training to raise awareness about the needs and challenges faced by women with disabilities can help create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.
  • Accountability Measures: Establishing transparent and effective mechanisms for reporting and addressing unfair practices is essential. Holding individuals accountable for discriminatory behavior fosters a culture of respect and equality.
  • Mental Health Support: Ensuring that mental health resources and support systems are accessible and responsive to the needs of women with disabilities is crucial for their overall well-being

By addressing these issues, police organizations can work towards creating a more equitable and supportive environment for all officers, regardless of gender or disability status, thereby positively impacting mental health outcomes.

* Women police

 Call to Action

One of the core values of the Nigeria Police Force is to provide equal opportunities for career developments for all members of the force, which is essential for fostering a diverse, inclusive, and effective law enforcement agency. Here are several strategies that can contribute to achieving this goal.

Equal Recruitment Standards:

  • Establish and enforce non-discriminatory recruitment policies and procedures.
  • Ensure that recruitment processes are transparent, fair, and based on merit.

Inclusive Training Programs:

  • Develop training programs that address the needs of individuals with diverse backgrounds, including those with disabilities.
  • Provide awareness training for all officers to foster understanding and respect for diversity.

Career Advancement Opportunities:

  • Implement clear and unbiased criteria for promotions and career advancement.
  • Monitor promotion processes to ensure they are free from bias and discrimination.

Mentorship and Support Programs:

  • Establish mentorship programs to support the career development of underrepresented groups.
  • Provide resources and guidance for career planning and advancement.

Reasonable Accommodations:

  • Ensure that reasonable accommodations are made for officers with disabilities to facilitate their full participation in training and job duties.
  • Regularly assess and update accommodations to meet the evolving needs of officers.

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives:

  • Develop and implement diversity and inclusion initiatives within the police force.
  • Foster a culture that values and celebrates diversity to create an inclusive working environment.

Performance Evaluation:

  • Regularly review and update performance evaluation processes to eliminate biases.
  • Implement objective and standardized performance criteria for all officers.

Family-Friendly Policies:

  • Introduce family-friendly policies, such as flexible work schedules, parental leave, and childcare support, to promote work-life balance for all officers.

Anti-Harassment Policies:

  • Implement and enforce robust anti-harassment policies.
  • Provide training on preventing harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Feedback Mechanisms:

  • Establish mechanisms for officers to provide feedback on issues related to equality and career development.
  • Regularly assess the effectiveness of policies and initiatives through surveys and feedback sessions.

Community Engagement:

  • Engage with the community to understand its diverse needs and perspectives.
  • Foster positive relationships between the police force and the communities it serves.

Leadership Commitment:

  • Ensure that leaders within the police force demonstrate a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equal opportunities.
  • Hold leadership accountable for creating and maintaining an inclusive environment.

Continuous monitoring, evaluation, and adaptation of these strategies are crucial to ensure their effectiveness in promoting equal opportunities for career development within the Nigeria Police Force. Additionally, collaboration with relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and community leaders, can contribute to the success of these initiatives.


In conclusion, the police force must address the glaring inequality within the police force, especially inequality confronting women officers. Failure to do so perpetuates a toxic work environment that fosters mental health issues. But addressing its detrimental effects on the mental health of women police officers and women with disabilities is crucial for the well-being of the individuals involved and for society.

In conjunction with addressing inequality, implementing robust accountability measures, and promoting a culture of fairness and gender equality are essential steps towards creating a supportive and inclusive working environment within law enforcement agencies. It is crucial to ensure fair treatment and equal opportunities for all officers. By dismantling systemic barriers and fostering a more empathetic and equitable police force, we can pave the way for the success and well-being of women officers and promote a more supportive and inclusive environment.

The police force can also promote the overall well-being, mental health, and professional growth of women officers by ensuring the adaptation of fair work practices.

Let us strive towards a future where equality and accountability prevail within the police force, benefiting the entire society.

 (This report is for GENDER ACCOUNTABILITY AND INCLUSIVITY IN NIGERIA project for Gender Strategy Advancement International (GSAI) supported by the OPEN SOCIETY INITIATIVE FOR WEST AFRICA(OSIWA)

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