Policewomen seem to be winning the fight for respect

Today's Talking Point is dedicated to women - women who in a male dominated profession are now to be found more often than any time before. We look at the policewomen of the Czech capital Prague with Jarka Halkova.

If I have a daughter one day and she ever considers becoming a policewoman I will do my best to talk her out of such nonsense. Yes, despite being open-minded I do hold a few prejudices. In my opinion women can be anything, apart from miners and policewomen. But I seem to be one of the very last women with such prejudices.

All the policewomen I talked to while making this programme are content and delighted that they now have access to a profession that was exclusively in the male domain until a few years after the fall of communism. They may still be in the minority and sometimes lack a female colleague to chat to but as Klara Homolacova says 'No worries, policemen gossip just as much as women, if not more.'

Klara used to work as a hairdresser in a small town in eastern Bohemia but always dreamed of becoming a policewoman. What was impossible in a provincial town where she was turned down because of her gender became a reality in Prague. Klara used to patrol and guard Prague's metro. Two years ago she was the only woman and her male colleagues were eager to show her that she wasn't up to it.

"Their attitude was pretty straightforward and clear - there is no place for a woman in the police. It wasn't worth arguing with them; it only led to more arguments and complaints. My colleagues would comment on me being a policewoman. Americans would call it sexual harassment I suppose. Male colleagues would for example slam the door in front of me just like students in schools tend to do. I was even thinking of leaving at one stage but I am glad I didn't. They have all apologized to me and admitted their mistake. It was difficult to get them to respect me and it took long time but we have built good relationships after all."

Says Klara who is proud of what she has achieved. If nothing else the fact that she has survived has helped other girls who now apply for a job in the force and don't have to put up with the rudeness of some policemen. She says that a policeman wins respect through strength, but that a policewoman can win confidence through charm.

"I think that if you get into a difficult situation, for example when you have to deal with a person who is making trouble it is a policeman who is respected more. He is stronger, bigger and has louder voice. On the other hand if people make a little mistake or forget about something they behave better to a policewoman. They don't argue, but try to correct their mistake and treat us more pleasantly."

The list of qualities needed to be a good policewoman doesn't have to be long, says Klara. Policewoman should be communicative, not scared of people and be able to make quick decisions. Women may sometimes act less decisively, especially in tricky situations, but luckily, such situations only turn up once in a blue moon.

"In communist days the police didn't have good reputation. A policeman was an idiot, not very bright or wise. I think that was the main reason my parents disapproved of me becoming a policewoman. The longer I have been working for the police force, the calmer they have become. They can see it is not true any more. Policemen and policewomen are not idiots at all. Entry tests for the police are much stricter these days. On the other hand it is still possible to come across a policeman who is not very intelligent and reminds you of the police of the old era."

Many Czechs would definitely agree. The old stereotype from the days of the old regime is still widespread.

Klara has now left her metro unit and works with children and the elderly in accident prevention. This includes teaching kids how to ride a bike or cross a street safely. The first few days in the new job were much easier than her early days with her metro group. The tables have turned, and the men who wanted to get rid of her would like her to come back.

Lubos Novotny, an experienced police officer of the Czech capital doesn't share any of the prejudices. Women definitely are not cowards, he says. Although they might have less brute strength when facing a crowd of drunken skinheads, he respects them just as much as his muscular male colleagues.

"I was a bit afraid when I started to work with a woman but I soon found out that women would stand up for me the same way as men. People tend to verbally attack policewomen more than men because they assume they are the weaker link but they are so wrong. Women are very sharp. We have to believe each other. I would never work with someone, I didn't trust."

"I was a bit afraid when I was working a night shift with another female colleague." admits Marketa. "We were not scared but it is better to work with a man, for example Lubos. We are very good partners." As soon as Marketa pointed out that people were in general nicer to policewomen than policemen, Lubos interrupted her impatiently to tell us about an experience he had had that morning.

"Just this morning, we were helping at a zebra crossing. There was a man approaching us. I was just about to greet him when he said 'Good morning, Miss.' to my colleague ignoring me. People definitely prefer to look at policewomen. For example today, we were giving fines for bad parking and everybody paid straightaway to Marketa but I had to fill in parking tickets. I remember drivers asking for phone numbers of my female colleagues. Nobody has ever asked for my phone number."