1 Aug 2016

Police mark 75 years of female officers

8:11 pm on 1 August 2016

When 94-year-old Marie Storey was accepted into police training 73 years ago, there were some not-so-subtle signs she was entering a man's world.

"We were titled 'temporary constable so-and-so, women's division'. I think the 'temporary' indicated there was some thought we may not remain in existence!"

Women weren't afforded privileges male officers took for granted.

"We wore plain clothes," Mrs Storey said.

"Uniforms didn't come in [for women] until 1952."

Since then, times have changed - and that change was commemorated today at a parade in Wellington from Civic Square to the forecourt of Parliament, celebrating the 75th anniversary of women in the New Zealand Police.

01082016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Police Parade celebrating 75 years of women being in the police force.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Despite adopting universal suffrage before any other country, New Zealand was bizarrely slow in allowing women to serve as police officers.

While Australia, Britain, Sweden and Germany all began accepting female officers before 1920, women in New Zealand had to wait until 1941.

Women are still under-represented in the force today - about a third of the total police staff are women, and only one in five sworn officers - but there has been progress over the years.

Superintendent Sandra Manderson is the highest-ranking female officer in the force, having served as an officer for nearly 40 years.

Ms Manderson was proud of her achievements, but said more needed to be done to bring about true equality.

"There's a lot of fantastic women in the New Zealand police - really highly-qualified, very capable - there's just so many all over the country.

"We represent society. They're highly experienced, they're qualified ... [but] we've got to recognise them. We've got to recognise them more."

Police commissioner Mike Bush said the progress New Zealand had made was something to be proud of.

But he agreed a lot more had to be done.

"I'm determined that we have, coming into the organisation, at least half our recruits are women," he said.

"We're determined to reflect the community that we serve."

Police minister Judith Collins agreed with Ms Manderson's sentiments, and said it was key to cut out unconscious bias or discrimination to increase the number of women joining the police.

"I think it happens by saying 'these are the different roles in police, these are the opportunities, and also, by the way, you're going to be treated the same: fairly, in terms of your gender, just like everyone else is. And you're not going to be overlooked, just because you're a woman'."

The number of women holding leadership positions still lagged behind the total number of women in the police force, with seven women holding a rank of superintendent or higher, compared to 43 men - a ratio of 14 percent.

But that figure has increased markedly since 2011, when less than 5 percent of superintendents were women.

Despite the low numbers, Marie Storey said she was thrilled the force had changed to the point where women were able to rise through the ranks.

"They've progressed, I think, since then, in so many ways," she said.

"And it's wonderful to see now the ranks that some of the women have attained."

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