Peru's women cleaning up traffic chaos, corruption
LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Calm amid traffic chaos, Lima policewoman
Miriam Diaz waves over an aging taxi that has sputtered past a stop signal.
With a no-nonsense expression, she ignores a bribe and hands the driver
ticket -- part of a women-driven revolution of honesty taking place on Lima's streets.
The government hopes to use Peruvians' perception that women are more
honest than men to clean up the image of a police force so corrupt that many
officers overlook traffic infractions for bribes as small as a dollar, about the
cost of a candy bar.
President Alberto Fujimori has announced that all of Lima's 2,500
traffic officers will be women by July 1999.
Some 25 percent of Lima's traffic police are already women, and these
first recruits have earned a reputation among drivers as unbribable.
"The women are more honest and morally firm than the men. It's
undeniable," said Cmdr. Pedro Montoya, who is training an all-woman
Bribes taken to supplement meager income
Lima is a sprawling city of 7 million on Peru's coastal desert.
Huge growth in the number of cars in recent years has swamped its traffic
and police services, creating some of the world's most disordered traffic.
Public reaction to the female officers has been largely positive.
Traffic police earn about $200 a month, a pauper's wage in Lima, where
minimal survival income for a family of five is $300. Their poverty has led
police to view bribes as a part of their income.
Male officers are known to pull cars over en masse before holidays to extort
gift-buying money and sell tickets to non-existent barbecues. Drivers refuse
to buy the tickets at their own risk.
"The old police were only interested in collecting money to buy lunch.
women seem more concerned with doing the job," said veteran taxi driver
Juan Ignacio. "But let's wait to see if they stay that way."
Women officers seek respect
A recent study showed that two of three Peruvians view women as both
more honest and less authoritarian than men. The study by the private
company Imasen polled 1,150 people in Peru's three largest cities in March
with a margin of error of 5 percent.
Diaz, her jet-black hair cut short, is proud of her job. She wears a dark
green skirt, coat, cap and black boots. A bright orange reflector vest saying
"Policia" identifies her as a policewoman.
"Most of the women become police officers to wear the uniform and get
respect," said Diaz, 26 Officers assigned to the street usually come from
Peru's poor majority.
Montoya says he thinks the women are more honest because of their role
heads of the family in deeply Catholic Peru and their aversion to taking
money from male drivers, which they see as resembling prostitution.
"Women police officers take the job more seriously, perhaps because they
are breaking ground in a male bastion," said sociologist Cecilia Blondet.
A police school on the outskirts of Lima will graduate 300 female cadets
October and 1,500 more in 1999, school director Col. Javier Caballero
said. Male officers will be transferred to different departments.
Drivers ignore Lima's few traffic rules
The women will face a tough task improving the corrupt force's image.
More than 1,000 cops were kicked off the police force as a whole for
corruption in 1995 alone. Dozens more were arrested for kidnapping, armed
robbery and other crimes.
Another daunting task will be bringing order to Lima's law-of-the-jungle
Drivers accustomed to avoiding tickets with a small bribe routinely ignore
few posted rules on Lima's roads.
Motorists roar past stop signs and red lights and make left turns from
lanes over, cutting off two lanes of traffic.
Motorcyclists drive down sidewalks, scattering pedestrians. Lane markings
serve no apparent purpose.
"The women officers have a lot to teach us men about respecting the law,"
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.