Remarkable police officer shares her powerful story

Sangya Malla joined the Nepal Police in 2008 and has served in various capacities as a training coordinator, program manager and the head of the department of orthodontics of the Nepal Police Hospital. She is currently the superintendent of Nepal Police and just finished an 18-month mission with the United Nations’ peacekeeping operation with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

Sangya is the chief of the MONUSCO Police Health and Environment Unit, which she helped establish in 2020. The unit is responsible for implementing policies and procedures concerning the health and well-being of personnel and United Nations Police environmental initiatives. Her contributions have directly impacted the Democratic Republic of the Congo in light of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic, past outbreaks of the Ebola virus, and natural and humanitarian crises such as the volcanic eruption in Goma in May 2021.

In recognition of her exceptional contributions as a woman police officer to the United Nations peace operations and promoting women's empowerment, Sangya was awarded the UN Woman Police Officer of the Year Award in 2021. The award also sheds light on her career-long achievements, inspiring commitment and proactive efforts to the health and safety of her colleagues, the Congolese people and the planet.

Sangya holds a bachelor's in dental surgery and a master's in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics. She has been a member of the Zonta Club of Kathmandu since 2019.

In May, Sangya was featured by Zonta International in a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne Foley OAM, chairman of the Zonta International Leadership Development Committee.

Here are some of the top takeaways from their conversation:

How Zonta members can influence women’s rights and gender equality

“At this point, awareness or telling [women who are being bullied or abused] that this is not right. ‘You are not supposed to suffer like this,’ or ‘This is not supposed to happen.’ Imagine, child marriage is still happening. Fighting against child marriage or creating awareness. … Also giving trainings on empowering women. Women would not complete their studies and they’re not independent. They’re still dependent on their husbands for basic stuff. So, just empowering them by giving them trainings so that they could be self-sufficient. I think all that has been going on is good enough for now, but what more we could do is raising voices to help these women … through advocacy and also connecting them to the right people.

How boarding school shaped her

“I think it gave me more confidence from an early age, being away from family, deciding on my own who to make friends with and not make friends with. … It was [also about] what was required of me and my parents’ expectations of me to study and get good grades. I think being away from Nepal in another country and meeting people from different backgrounds played a big role. … I learned about diversity from an early age, so I think that also could have helped.”

From dentist to police officer

“My cousin is in a force; she’s a doctor too. I really liked the uniform, the discipline and serving more people. … So, when this opportunity came for this vacancy for Nepal Police, I joined in 2008 as a dentist. Then after two years, I got a chance to study orthodontics. Then I started orthodontics and then I got a chance to go to Haiti. I know it is surprising from being a doctor and then going overseas … but for me it’s all about serving the community and also representing your country on an international level. I think that’s what’s important to me.”

Biggest influence in life

“I think it’s my mom. She is a very strong woman and she’s always got me here. ‘As long as you are right, do not be afraid to speak.’ … My mom started working late. Before, she was a housewife, and she took care of the family; she did not work. But later, due to some circumstances, she had to work. … I look at her and … she’s more of an inspiration to me. … She’s very generous and she’s helped a lot of people. If she sees anyone [who needs help], like an orphan. She will bring him home, provide shelter and give education. If you get an education, you are confident enough to get a job and then leave. I’ve seen her do that so she’s my biggest influence.”


“My supervisor, I think he’s a true leader. … A mentor or leader should see the good, your strengths—and your weaknesses too, but it is very important to highlight on the strengths and on what you have. If someone highlights on your strengths, then you get the confidence. When you get the confidence then you are able to achieve anything that you put your mind to. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a supervisor like that, and supervisor always [play] a direct role in shaping what you become.”

Leadership traits

“I think it is communication. You have to have really open, honest communication. Also, one is being positive. I think you need to have a really positive mindset. Also, you have to practice what you preach. You cannot say one thing and do another thing. For me, it is not being too rigid. … Be flexible, listen to your team members. Be open to criticism, negative or positive. You just listen, communicate, resolve conflict if there’s any. And also build a good network. That’s important.”

Making a difference

“Everyone can make a difference. You don’t have to make it big or anything; we just have to believe in ourselves and work hard. That’s it; just work hard in whichever field that you are and just believe in yourself and … be out of your comfort zone.”

Overcoming setbacks

“I really like to talk to myself and try to reason it out. Maybe it’s for the best and sometimes I let go if it doesn’t happen. … I make sure that I have this positive mindset and attitude and I don’t get lost in the negativity.”

I share everything with my mom so like I said, that has been a powerful, driving force toward me. … If I’m really low down, I talk to her.”

Motivations and what contributed to winning the UN Woman Police Officer of the Year Award

“My main guiding force has been my family. My parents have always supported me. … As you go through life, you meet different people, and they influence you. So, in schools, it was my teachers; and then my friends who always supported me and guided me. And here, I’m lucky to be part of a UN system that believes in equal women’s participation in leadership roles, and I was given that opportunity to do my best. All I did was work hard and I think whoever gave me this opportunity … they saw the potential in me … and that boosted me. They motivated me; they gave me confidence to do the best that I could do.”

Being an influence for other women

“The award is for me to be a role model so that others could follow, and others could see, ‘OK, if she can do it, I can do it too.’ I hope I can motivate more women, not just from my country, but from other countries to pursue police work if they want—or any other work—and to come to peacekeeping missions; because in peacekeeping missions, the role of women is very important and we can make a difference. I would like if more women could come join this life of work and help in places like the RC (Republic of Congo) or other places where there’s conflicts and be able to serve.”

Working away from home

“It is difficult, but I am sort of used to being away. Now I have a responsibility toward my parents, toward my son, who is going to be 9 soon. It is difficult when he asked me, ‘When are you coming back home?’ But I made sure to go in every two to three months and we keep in touch through phone. … But when I got the award, my son was very happy. He was like, ‘Mamu, you [have] become famous.’ That was a proud moment for me. And I told him, ‘See, I’m doing all this for you.’ I tell him, ‘I do this for you so that you will also follow me in serving people, serving communities.’ I hope he understands one day why I left him to go out and do this job that I am doing.”

Importance of women officers

“We live in a society where you’re always in the shadow of men. If you have a male officer and a female officer in a place of conflict, the female would rather approach a female officer than a male officer to share if there’s anything that’s going around or to participate in trainings or awareness or anything that’s benefiting them. So, women play a big role; also, when you look at someone doing that, that will give you the confidence or more reason to come out of hiding because it’s easier to open up to a female officer.”

What’s next

“I just want to go home and be with my family. I go back to my job that is working in the Nepal Police Hospital so for the moment it’s just that and also continuing the work for Zonta. I feel like I could do more, so … I will continue with the motivation I have right now.”

Watch Sangya’s Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories session:

26 MAY 2022