Empowering women leaders in border control in Eastern and Southern Africa

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In the post-pandemic world, border control agencies everywhere are facing enormous challenges. Not only must they facilitate an unprecedented amount of large, legal movements of goods and people, but they must also remain vigilant against criminals seeking to exploit these processes. Never has there been a greater focus on global supply chains, trade facilitation and border security as nations around the world work to recover from the devastating effects of the pandemic. Responsive, future-ready agencies know that this complex and demanding work requires a diverse, skilled, and future-ready workforce.

And yet it is no secret that in this law enforcement workforce, women are significantly underrepresented around the world. In 2021, the World Customs Organization (WCO) reported that just 16 per cent of senior leadership roles were held by women globally and that women make up only 37 per cent of the Customs workforce.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)-WCO Container Control Programme (CCP) has been working alongside border security agencies in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) to prioritize gender equality in CCP units. As a result, women’s participation has been steadily rising, and as of June 2022, 46% of all CCP officers in the region were women.

Despite this positive progress, women remain underrepresented in leadership roles. To address this gap, UNODC, in partnership with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University), developed the CCP Women’s Professional Development Programme (WPDP-ESA) to provide an opportunity for emerging border control leaders in Eastern and Southern Africa.

Building upon the award-winning WPDP piloted in Asia and the Pacific, this two-week programme, held in June 2022, brought together 46 emerging women border control leaders from six countries – Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania and Uganda.

Through a diverse virtual curriculum and a range of interactive workshops, the WPDP-ESA offered opportunities for women to develop their leadership skills and build their confidence to create a vital professional network across the region.

Participants embraced the opportunities for learning and connection during the programme and graduated with a new mindset on leadership, a range of critical leadership skills, a new-found confidence in themselves, and having created a strong and trusted regional network to advance their leadership journeys. The participants now join a growing alumni community and will continue to have opportunities to engage with fellow graduates around the world.

Creating positive leadership pathways and empowering women to realize their potential was a key objective of the programme. As noted by one participant, “Women at borders may not be great in quantity but we are of quality. We can manoeuvre and work effectively even in a male-dominated environment. Together, we are stronger.”

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime