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A political economy analysis of policing for women in Sierra Leone

Book/book chapter

Written by Lisa Denney

Based on fieldwork in Sierra Leone between February and April 2009, this chapter argues that the Family Support Units need to address the obstacles to access and engage with the informal policing providers to comprehensively improve the policing provided to women.

United Kingdom-led police reform efforts in Sierra Leone have helped forge a modern police service from the remnants of a distrusted and abusive force that has existed since the African nation’s 1961 independence. The Family Support Units (FSUs) police stations created to deal with crimes involving women and children—were a key project within the reforms. Hailed as a success story by donors and international organizations, the FSUs have become the template for similar police reform projects in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Their creation has been described as a “modern” policing project, combining women’s human rights and local ownership. However, a political economy analysis (PEA) of the program—looking at the incentives and contexts of those women the units are meant to serve—indicates that FSUs are not quite as successful as donor reports suggest. In fact, women face financial, geographic, linguistic, and cultural barriers that prevent many of them from utilizing the FSUs. As a result, many women - particularly in rural areas - rely on the often oppressive policing of chiefs and secret societies.

Lisa Denney