Female Police Unit in Liberia Hopes to Break Down Barriers

In more than a decade of civil war in the 1990s, a quarter of a million Liberians were killed and an estimated 40 percent of all Liberian women were raped.

Today, rape remains the most common crime in Liberia. Women are not only abused by Liberian men, they are also abused by U.N. peacekeeping troops, who have been found guilty in about 30 cases involving sex for food just last year, officials say.

Liberia's president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first elected female head of state, who is currently visiting the United States, is one of many women trying to change the fortunes for the women of that African nation.

A group of women police enforcers is undertaking a bold experiment in saving lives in Liberia, and giving hope where there has been so little.

Four months ago a company of tough, experienced Indian policewomen landed in Liberia. They were the first all-female police contingent ever deployed by the United Nations anywhere. According to their commander, their presence has given Liberian women the confidence to report assaults.

"They do come forward and they do tell about certain things and we just pass on the information to the right forum," Seema Dhundia, the commander of the unit, said.

Hoping More Women Will Join Force

The all-female contingent is highly trained and armed with pistols and submachine guns. The policewomen have used tear gas to break up demonstrations, but they have yet to fire their weapons.

The officers say they have suffered no abuse of any kind while carrying out their duties.

The 105 Indian policewomen had to pass a tough physical test to get into their all-female unit, which is stationed in Liberia for six months. Their day starts with calisthenics.

Then they have breakfast, made by the kitchen staff, which is, ironically, all male.

Part of the policewomen's mission here is to encourage Liberian women to join a national police force of their own. Their belief is that the sight of uniformed women in positions of authority can reduce the level of violence against all women.

Johnson-Sirleaf wants 20 percent of the police and army here to be female. Right now 5 percent of police are female.

ABC News' Hilary Brown reported this story from Liberia for "Good Morning America."