Women in Australian Policing: An Historical Overview

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Prenzler, T
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The entry of women into policing in Australia and the achievement of legal equality have been described by one policewoman as 'a long hard struggle'.' The marginalisation experienced by policewomen has also been reflected in Australian historical studies. Most histories of police in Australia give little or no space to issues of female participation. More critical, sociologically-based studies have also tended to perpetuate the assumption that 'police' are 'men'. Leading writers on police like Chappell and Wilson commonly made statements such as: "Australian police forces ... require more men. But more men will not by themselves solve all police problems. Quality of men is a more pressing problem than their numbers". Apart from one book-length historical study on South Australia, two short biographies, various short reports in magazines, newspapers and professional journals, and some theses and reports, there is a dearth of substantial published material on policewomen in Australia. This article is itself only an introduction. Further primary research is required to provide a detailed historical picture of the experience of policewomen. Most readily available material is from South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland — although there does appear to be a common experience for Australian women police. There is a large British and American theoretical and sociological literature on policewomen relevant to the Australian situation and a number of attitude studies have been done in Australia. Given the absence of historical material however, this paper leaves aside theory in order to provide a narrative account of women in Australian policing. That experience can be divided into two distinct phases. In the first period from the Great War to the early 1970s, women won and consolidated a place in a restricted welfare-related role. Since then, formal equality has been achieved and some small steps have been made in the direction of affirmative action.

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Journal of Australian Studies
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