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“Women in/and the Military”

Women in Policing in a Transforming Organization : The Case of The Estonian Police

Aigi Resetnikova


In spite of women joining the police in ever-increasing numbers in Estonia, these numbers, in fact, do not really reflect the actual situation plaguing gender issues in Estonian society. The issue of women in policing in Estonian Police has never been the subject of close academic scrutiny. In order to counterbalance the monosexual tradition of thought, the author seeks to introduce the reader to information on policewomen in Estonia and look at their issues from a female perspective. In addition, the survey of Estonian policewomen and their status enlarges the picture of women in policing to include those in Estonia.

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Index terms


Police, Women



Research Fields:

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1Despite women police officers’ range of experiences, most international research on their careers has focused on problems they have faced gaining acceptance in a historically masculine field. Thus, although there is a considerable body of research on women’s tribulations as tokens, on their marginalization by male peers and supervisors, and on the persistence of sexual harassment in police departments on policewomen in various police organizations in Europe and around the world, only few studies have focused on Estonian policewomen. The current article attempts to fill that void1.

2Like many organizations in a state and society in transition, Estonian Police too are going through a rapid change. Police officers are expected to be more knowledgeable, to be capable of a wider range of skills and to keep abreast of new developments in their profession as well as major changes in wider community. This is particularly apt in the light of an emphasis on “customer focus” as exemplified by the shift from police force to police service.


3There is a controversy today over whether women’s policing style is similar or different from men’s style and whether this might be harmful or beneficial to policing. Many women in the police service itself are reluctant to discuss differences in styles because they believe this may push them back into specialist positions, which sometimes have considerable prestige but often limit an incumbent’s upward mobility. On the other hand, many feminist groups, particularly the U.S.-based National Center for Women & Policing, a project sponsored by the Feminist Majority, an activist feminist group in the U.S., believe that women’s difference is an advantage2. Thus, they believe that, in many of the areas of police activity, women are especially adaptable and can even perform better than men. According to this view, policewomen are especially suitable for working for special police prostitution groups, dealing with migrants in prostitution and trafficking in women within the larger cities. They are gaining more and more experience concerning working with police groups dealing with domestic violence and juvenile affairs. Policewomen are generally more acceptable to women and children who have been the victims of the misdeeds of men. Girls and young children have more confidence in women. At the same time, the field of crime prevention is becoming more important to police agencies and here policewomen play their greatest role. They are usually assigned to the department’s juvenile bureau and their effectiveness lies in a couple of areas. Policewomen are very adept at evaluating parents and poor home situations which do not always meet the eye. They are also gifted in gaining the confidence of small children and in determining whether behaviour is normal or antisocial. The employment of policewomen offers the best method of finding out the real problem, ascertaining what the runaway girl experienced while away from home, and then determining the best course of action to pursue.

4Research conducted internationally clearly demonstrates that women officers rely on style of policing that uses less physical force, are better at defusing and de-escalating potentially violent confrontations with citizens, and are less likely to become involved in problems with use of excessive force. Additionally, women officers often possess better communication skills than their male counterparts and are better able to facilitate the cooperation and trust required to implement a community policing model. Female police officers often respond more effectively to incidents of violence against women3 and will ultimately improve response to domestic violence. The service-oriented style of policing reveals women as less likely to misconduct themselves, or become cynical toward citizens4. They are considered at least equal to male officers in most areas of police work5. Also, research demonstrates that female officers are equally capable as their male counterparts when it comes to job performance6, and have demonstrated no consistent differences in the quality of their performance in street policing7. The argument premised on women’s lack of physical strength can be rejected by the earlier research. Bell8  found that no research has proven that physical strength is related to the ability to successfully manage dangerous situations. As an additional benefit, the very presence of women in the field will often bring about change in policies and procedures that benefit both male and female officers9.


5The role of women in law enforcement mirrors the social attitudes and prevailing customs towards women in the society at large. It is important to look at the history and developments of status of women in the Estonian society to understand the roles female police officers play today: women’s social and economic status in society historically and the challenges they still face in achieving equality of rights and opportunities to set their goals and reach their human potential, and their professional roles.

6According to the legislation, women and men were equal in the Soviet Union but this equality was limited to political slogans and very little was done in practice to evaluate and improve gender equality. Absolute equality between women and men was officially declared but the meaning ascribed to the term was somewhat lopsided and did not reflect the real situation. Living a half century under a totalitarian regime has caused a serious gap in Estonians’ knowledge of the character of human rights and their protective mechanisms10. With the help of violent repression of individuals and personalities and through involuntary emancipation, women were declared to have all rights, including the right to work in any chosen field of life. However, real life sharpened the understanding that rebellion against male domination in the leading position of society was considered outrageous and rude. The equality practiced during this period hid the real discrimination against women and their low status in society and in the workplace11.

7Public awareness of human rights issues started to gradually develop after Estonia regained independence in 1991. Soon it became clear that the social and professional status of women in Western and Eastern European countries, resembled a great deal. According to Narusk12  the main similarities were:

  • pyramid structure (there is a lack of women at public and professional positions of upper management bodies; majority of women are working at lower posts);

  • professions divided into “women’s and men’s jobs”;

  • compared with men women usually get paid less despite of exercising the common tasks;

  • compared with men, women have heavier workload.

8Today, many Estonian women still do not question the justice of “men’s work” and “women’s work” based on biological and psychological stereotypes, which has left a double burden of domestic and wage labour on women’s shoulders. Masculine and feminine traits are stereotypically construed as differentiating between women and men. See Epstein (1988); according to her view the theory of socialization into sex roles focuses on the process by which the sexes assume different personality characteristics, skills, and preferences. This perspective suggests that cultural views of the proper attitudes and behaviour for each sex are communicated to boys and girls through the message of their parents, the images provided by media, and the communications of teachers and friends; these messages are then internalised, with consequences for adult life. Socialization contributes to sex segregation by creating in males and females specific orientation, preferences, and competencies for occupations that have been defined as sex-appropriate, while leaving men and women disinclined toward or ignorant of opportunities to pursue other occupations13.These views stem from historical background of Estonian society where women used to have a significant influence in managing the household and raising kids, compared with men they performed heavier workload, however, had only a modest influence at the decision-making level.

9The developments in gender equality in contemporary Estonia have been made possible due to the major economic and political changes – gaining independence in 1991 and starting the transition to a market economy. Both sexes have to be represented in all spheres of society and all levels of decision making so that men and women could influence equally the societal development14. Although contemporary Estonian women have been successful in industry as well as in science, gender stereotyping in any field has still persisted with the support of public policy and public opinion. One of the most obvious examples of inequality is the difference in salary rates. Although women and men must have equal opportunities for establishing economically independent life, women’s wages are still significantly lower than men’s wages, even though this wage gap has been slowly decreasing15. Men and women are not paid equally in any European country, whereby this gap is wider in Estonia where women’s salaries have been about one four times lower than men’s throughout the years following independence16.

10In Estonia, the question of women’s human rights and sex discrimination started to gain more attention after Beijing Women’s World Conference in 1995. Estonia has joined several legally binding international conventions on the equality between women and men, among them the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its Protocols, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. In addition, Estonian Gender Equality Act was passed in 2004. In a democratic and open society the question of whether women should or should not be part of the police needs no discussion. According to the document compiled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for progressing the Estonian Police “The Priorities in Development for the Police Structures until 2006” female and male police officers must have equal possibilities when it comes to payment and career. It is important that during the recruitment process skills, knowledge and characteristics of the candidate must be assessed regardless of her/his sex. How this may affect the Estonian female police officers remains to be seen.


11Although there is a great deal of information available on the history of policewomen in the United States, and some on Britain and western European countries, there aren’t any other resources available than one study on the history of Estonian women in policing conducted by the historian Mai Krikk.

12Krikk17 found that since 1929, when the first woman was accepted to the police school under special permit issued by the Minister of the Interior, and was later appointed to the criminal police, altogether there worked two female police officers at the criminal police until the II World War. These women had studied law at the University of Tartu, therefore had higher education in addition to the police school training, not common characteristic among the male staff of criminal police. In addition, two other female police officers were employed by the Political Police before the Soviet occupation in 1940.

13After the entry of the first woman to the police school, in 1929, there appeared 20 other female police school applicants wishing to join the police. However, Estonian society was not yet ready to accept women to the police school.  

14Women accomplished integrated into the police organization since the very foundation of the new Estonian Police in August, 1991. Although Estonian women have been involved in policing since 1929, their presence went unnoticed until the beginning of 2000 when they became majority among the applicants to the Police School at Paikuse in Pärnu county. Consequently, the focus of effective diversity management became important, and, for a time it became somewhat essential to prevent women to enter the police service and become organized. Regardless the level of representation of women in the police has grown radically from 1992 to present (see Table 1 below).

15Due to continuous reforms the number of sworn police staff in the Estonian Police has been falling. Despite of the personnel cuts, the share of female police officers has been increasing. In 2001 there were 1,305 police officers working for the Tallinn Police Prefecture, whereas 38 percent of them were women. Women occupied 22 percent of the patrol police positions and 33 percent of the constable positions18. In June 2003, the total number of police officers was 3,565, of which 1,028 were women. The overall percentage of women, approximately 29 percent of the total number of police officers at that time. According to February 2006 data, the total number of police officers is 3,373, of which 1,129 are women. The overall percentage of women, 33.5% of the total number of police officers, is the highest in Europe and in the world.

16Currently, as of 2003, the highest ranking female police officer is Heete Simm who holds the title of Police Director at the Police Board. Recently, Ester Kallakas, another female Police Director who held the position of Police Prefect for years, retired. There is one female Deputy Police Director working for the Police Board and a small number of Chief Superintendents. However, the majority of the Police Superintendents of the Police Board are women. From the civilians there are currently five female higher officials out of 12 higher civilians’ posts at the Police Board. Out of 209 Estonian Police higher-ranking police posts 26 are filled with women, which make approximately 12 percent of women out of the total number of higher-ranking police positions.

17In the Criminal Police Department of the Tallinn Police Prefecture, which is the largest Prefecture in Estonia and serves the capital city of Tallinn, two out of six higher-ranking police officers are women. Among other units such as Homicide, Auto Tracking, and Drugs Crime, they are in charge of the Co-ordination Unit and the Surveillance Unit. In the City Police Precinct of the Tallinn Police Prefecture there is one female out of three higher-ranking police posts. She is in charge of the Law Enforcement Unit. There are no other higher-ranking female police officials on higher-ranking positions at any other Precincts or Departments of the Tallinn Police Prefecture. Women form approximately 45 percent of the workforce of the Criminal Police Department as well as approximately 57 percent of the total number of police posts of the City Police Precinct. As a comparison there are approximately 55 percent of women working at Northern Police Precinct, whereas the percentage is the same in the Traffic Department.

18Estonian policewomen enjoy all the benefits guaranteed by state legislation. There is no information about differences in male and female police officers’ salaries as there is no official data regarding the subject, and salaries are commonly not discussed among officers.

19Until recently women have been dominated applications for study at the Police School. According to the Estonian Police 2003 data available from the World Wide Web in December, 2002 out of 155 applicants, the total number of females was 110. Despite the fact that the number of applicants has increased throughout the recent years, the number of male applicants has been rather modest. However, during the recent admission 232 applications were received and only 50 percent were from females.   

20 In spite of the large percentage of women in the Estonia Police, there is a lack of information about them. Somewhat surprisingly, no research about women in policing has been conducted. Veronika Viru, a higher-ranking female police activist of the Police Board, has proposed to include research concerning women in policing in the 2004 Police Board activity plan. So far the police are lacking valuable data about women in policing although females form considerably large percent of the Estonian police force with its 29 percent of female representatives (2003 data). In November, 2002 the formation of Estonian policewomen’s association was discussed by an interest group and is expected to be initiated within the year 2004. These are the first signs of interest in the women at a national level and of development of a consciousness of their positions within the police by the women themselves. How this may affect the women or the Estonia Police remains to be seen.

Table 1. Demographic breakdown of the numbers of police personnel


Police officers

Female police officers




































































Source: The Police Board 2006

21To obtain a higher position and rank police officers, no matter what their sex is, have to have served a certain number of years in the police service and have to meet the evaluated requirements for police officers. Today, men still assume the more respected positions of authority and power in the Estonian Police, positions quite consonant with societal views about men’s “natural” roles. Women within the police agencies find themselves most often in the lowest, supporting ranks and positions. Furthermore, male police officers tend to get promoted to senior management and top positions more frequently than female police officers. Constituting a little more than 33% of the nation’s police officers, women have found it especially difficult to rise through the ranks and achieve higher posts. In 2006, out of 302 higher-ranking police officers women shared only 15.6% of those positions. They are unique groundbreakers who have managed to breach the glass ceiling. However, majority of the female higher-ranking police officers (82.2% in 2004) are employed as commissaries – the lowest rank among higher-ranking positions.

22During the spring 2002, a poll called “Personnel Barometer”19 was carried out within the Estonian Police in cooperation with the Finnish Police where about 1,000 female police officers and employees expressed their opinion. The main factors causing dissatisfaction among women were: salaries – 49.6 percent; career progression – 38.9 percent; job valuation by the public – 34 percent, and guaranteed job – 27 percent.  Evaluating organizational culture, the women emphasized the fact that there is a need to stick to the work plans – 68.8 percent. The possibility to talk often to the superior about the problems related to work was rendered important – 62.6 percent, also a regular monitoring of achieving the objectives was essential – 60 percent. As a result of the research it came out that the Estonian female police officers and employees are far more exposed to counseling than their male colleagues. The main reasons for getting advice are job and family related problems. A recent study revealed that career possibilities attract little more than half (52.9%) of female police officers working for the Estonian Police. According to a survey conducted in 2004, 76.5% of women consider their male colleagues to have better career opportunities.

23So far, no arrangements or projects have been carried out in order to raise the number of women in higher rank or in senior management positions.

24Since 1996, Estonian policewomen have participated in discussions and events with their European colleagues through the European Network of Policewomen, though Estonian Police became a member of the organization not until the beginning of 2000. The initial aim of the network is to optimize the position of women within the European police and law enforcement organizations. In 2001, the female representatives of the Estonian Police were among the founders of the Nordic-Baltic Network of Policewomen along with colleagues of other Nordic and Baltic countries that are actively participating in the work of this network. The main objectives of the network are sharing information and experience as well as empowerment of female police officers.

25Although the interest towards women networking became an object of interest relatively recently, the first attempt to form Estonian women police network arised already in 1998. However, the lack of interest from policewomen as well as the lack of support by the top management level police officials has put a damper on this initiative for a few years. Management was quite skeptical and sometimes even standoffish about taking part in the activities of police women networking. Lack of information and misunderstanding of women’s movement as “the club of feminists“ could be the main reasons for their initial attitude. However, eventually changes in their mind triggered the discussions regarding the formation of Estonian female police officers’ association and it appeared into the agenda again in 2002. Therefore, unlike many police organizations, with the support of upper echelon of the Estonian Police, which consists mainly of male police officers, an Estonian Police Women Association (Eesti Politsei Naisühendus) was founded in November 2003.

26The Association unites both female sworn and non sworn staff, and its founding members formed about 5% of the overall number of female police officers. However, their number has been consistently increasing. The association remained with moderate membership levels during its first year of operation, its members making up approximately 9% of the total number of female personnel.

27Although one of the main and most important objectives of the association is to empower women police, to promote their self-consciousness and encourage them to pursuit managerial positions, it is too early to predict how the Estonian Police Women Association activities will promote the position and overall situation of female police officers in the future.

28There exist underlying issues affecting women’s full integration into policing, which cross professional boundaries and spill out into the society at large. Although variety of social issues concerning women have exacerbated, gender issues among them, up to today, gender difference in Estonia has not been under close scrutiny, nor are personal and public issues analyzed from gender aspect. The police too are lacking valuable data about women in policing although they form considerably large percent of the Estonian police force with its 33.5% of female representatives. The current overview of Estonian women in policing has supplied initial information of the modern policewomen and of the pioneering women police from the history in Estonian policing.

29In Estonian Police there are, of course, still far fewer women than there are men, but their number continue to increase. The current presence of women, so far from changing the near monopoly of men, comprising about 88% of the Estonian police personnel in 1992, merely shows today that the police are themselves beginning to replicate the demographic structure of society with allowing equal opportunities to everyone.

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1 See M. Eichler and J. Lapointe, On the Treatment of Sexes in Research, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, 1985; they noted that studies involving only one sex are legitimate and justifiable. In particular, studies involving women compensate for the many gaps in knowledge, errors and omissions which characterize the social science and humanities.
2 E. Smeal, J. Sreenivasan and J. Jackman Eds., Women Redesign Policing, The Feminist Majority Report, Vol. 8, #2, 1996. URL:
3 K. Lonsway, M. Moore, P. Harrington, E. Smeal and K. Spillar, Hiring & Retaining More Women: The Advantages to Law Enforcement Agencies, 2003. URL:
4 National Center for Women & Policing, Recruiting and Retaining Women: A Self-assessment Guide for Law Enforcement, 2001. URL:
5 E. Poole and M. Pogrebin, Factors Affecting the Decision to Remain in Policing: A Study of Women Officers. Journal of Police Science and Administration, Vol. 16, #1, 1988, pp. 49-55.
6 S. E. Martin, Female Officers on the Move: An Update on Women in Policing, in Critical Issues in Policing, 3rd ed., R. G. Dunham and G. P. Alpert Eds., Waveland Press, Prospect Hights, IL, 1997, pp. 363-384; M. Morash, Understanding the Contribution of Women to Police Work, in The Police and the Community, 4th ed., L. A. Radalet Ed., Macmillan, New York, 1986.
7 A. Worden, The Attitudes of Women and Men in Policing: Testing Conventional and Contemporary Wisdom, Criminology, Vol. 31, #2, 1993, pp. 203-237
8 D. J. Bell, “Policewomen: Myths and Realities”, Journal of Police Science and Administration, Vol. 10, 1982, pp. 112-120
9 K. Lonsway, et al.,Op.cit.
10 V. Kolga, EU National Reports: Estonia National Report on Law and Policy Addressing Men’s Practices, July 2001, URL:
11 U. Oksa, Women Policing and the Transition to Independence. Paper presented at the Third Australasian Women and Policing Conference: Women and Policing Globally, Canberra, October 2002. URL:
12 A. Narusk, Eesti naised ja ratsionaalsed valikud, Ariadne Lõng, Vol. 1, #2, 2000, pp. 50-59
13 Ibid.
14 K. Mänd Ed., Erinevad, aga võrdsed, ÜRO Rahvastikufond ja Sotsiaalministeerium, Tallinn, 2003.
15 See for more information Purju (2004).
16 Mänd, Op. Cit.; S. Maanso Ed., Eesti statistika aastaraamat 2005. Statistikaamet, Tallinn, 2005.
17 M. Krikk, Eesti politsei loomine ja areng 1918-1940,  Olion, Tallinn, 2001.
18 Tallinna Politseiprefektuur, 2002.
19 U.Oksa, Op.cit., pp.3-4
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Electronic reference

Aigi Resetnikova, “Women in Policing in a Transforming Organization : The Case of The Estonian Police”The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 4/5 | 2006, Online since 27 November 2006, connection on 15 July 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Aigi Resetnikova

Researcher, Institute of Law, University of Tartu, Estonia

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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