On the seashores of North Lebanon lies a historical city that represents the utmost image of Lebanon’s diversity and coexistence. Despite the challenges, more than 100,000 individuals learned to live together in peace and harmony. Al Mina, a Northern Lebanese city with an independent municipal body, aims at meeting its citizens’ needs in every way possible. While roaming around its streets, you might be surprised by the angels keeping the city safe and overseeing the protection of its people. These stand proud in their official uniforms portraying the highest levels of professionalism: They are the women of Al Mina’s Municipal police.
The scene in the city is not one that you will only be able to see in the North. It represents one component of a larger project intended to empower Lebanon’s municipal police. The recruitment of females falls under a “new vision for Lebanon’s Municipal Police” developed by the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities (MoIM), with the support of UNDP. The new vision intends to transform Municipal Police in Lebanon into a service to the population, putting people’s rights at the core of the Municipal Police’s mission.
Out of Al Mina’s 21 newly recruited police agents, 6 are women. “This is something very new to the North,” explains Hussam Ibrahim, head of the police. The newly recruited agents benefited from a UNDP supported training, which helped their integration into the unit and sensitized them on the job’s demands.
The training is the second pillar of a “strategic framework” set for the transformation of Lebanon’s municipal police. Through funding from the governments of Canada and the Netherlands- UNDP has been working in close collaboration with the Internal Security Forces academy on developing the framework and ensuring municipalities adopt its components.
“Municipal Police agents who took part of the UNDP supported trainings were able to adopt better approaches to deal with community members. Rather than the use of force, they have learned to engage people in dialogue. Their attitude today reflects the vision of the PEOPLEORIENTED municipal police we seek,” explains Ziad Hajjar, the head of the Union of Municipalities in Iqlim Al Kharoub which is also part of the initiative.
Stavrolla, one of Al Mina’s new MP agents tells us excitedly that “there is no difference between the duties of a male and female police, we perform our duties equally.” Stavrolla can’t understand why there should be any differentiation between the tasks assigned based on gender. This is something the mayor and the head of the division agree on as well. “This is just us- as women– trying to achieve our dreams! Personally, I will not stop.” explains Fadila who also joined the team recently. “I encourage every women to apply, we have every right to be engaged at all levels in society,” continues Moyassar, Safaa and Fadila’s colleague when asked about the inclusion of women in this initiative.
Al Mina today projects a reality sought by many thanks to the efforts of its guardian angels. The women behind the municipal police has made the lives of citizens easier. Their differentiating mark is the smile they draw on their faces while serving others. “People come from different areas and are surprised by the scene of having women as municipal police serving on the streets,” continues the mayor proudly. He asks us to go out and ask the people of the city whether this has changed anything in their daily lives. When we did, we met with three of the city’s men working in different areas. They all had a shared answer “They are very effective and they have added a new vibrant aspect to the city's streets.”
Today, Al Mina’s Mayor wants to inspire other municipalities across Lebanon to take on the step of including women on their Municipal Police Units. With UNDP’s support he is serving as an advocate to the cause, by sharing expertise on the topic with other municipalities. “The support provided to one municipality does not stop at its level. The project serves as a catalyst for outstanding initiatives, and a platform for peer-toper discussions, where each supported partner is inspired to make the effort of reaching out to others and create a change. The end result is a network of local stakeholders collaborating together for one purpose: A people-oriented Municipal Police in Lebanon, one that is from the people and for them.” explains Martin Borgeaud, UNDP's Project Chief Technical Adviser.