Burqa Blue to Belt Green
Women in the Afghan police force serve against all odds.
Women in the Afghan police force continue to serve their country
against all odds.
Afghanistan is a highly patriarchal society where all institutions are controlled almost entirely by men. Although after the ousting of the Taliban, the Afghan government, together with different international organizations, has employed efforts to alleviate the plight of women, the inherent discrimination remains deep-rooted in Afghan society, which is by and large directed by strict tribal norms and religious extremism. As a result, violation of women’s rights is prevalent while the laws meant to prevent them are weak.
As society in Afghanistan is maledominated, life for women is nothing short of an ordeal. The media has represented Afghanistan in such a way that whenever someone thinks about an Afghan woman, the first image that flashes before the eyes is that of a suppressed, burqa-clad woman who is not allowed to step out of her house. Though there is some truth in this and Afghan culture does bind women to the four walls of their houses, little is known about those courageous women who, despite living in a highly patriarchal society, have chosen dangerous professions which have put their lives at stake. These are women in the Afghan police who stand tall and look the world straight in the eye, every day.
The Afghan police started hiring women in 1967. However, with the tumultuous political situation in the country, the police force could not fully develop and women couldn’t integrate into the profession. In 1996, as the Taliban assumed power, women were completely banned from serving in the police force and the idea of women becoming a part of the profession was looked upon with scorn.
After a decade of prohibition, when Taliban control dissipated, the Afghan government felt the need for female officers in the Afghan National Police ( ANP) to assist the force in carrying out counterinsurgency activities. To this end, the Afghan Ministry of the Interior (MoI), with the help of an international organization EUPOL Afghanistan (European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan), started recruiting females in the ANP once again.
The process of female integration
into the police was rather slow. This can be gauged from the fact that in 2005, only 180 women were serving in the force out of a total 53,400 personnel. The number grew to just 1,690 as of February 2014. Despite the gradual development, the situation is still not encouraging as women only make up two percent of the total police force in Afghanistan.
There are some brave Afghani women who are proud to wear the uniform and are ready to sacrifice their lives in the line of duty. For instance, in 2008, Malailai Kakar, the head of the department of crimes against women and the most prominent policewoman in Afghanistan, was shot dead by the Taliban. The spree of killing of female police officials continued as four more women, Hanifa Safi, Najia Sediqi, Islam Bibi and Negar were killed in the succeeding years. The tragic incidents led to fear and panic in Afghanistan and women again became increasingly reluctant to join the police. Even then, some brave women continued to serve the profession against all odds.
Apart from threats to life, women who join the police force in Afghanistan have to face numerous other problems as well. For example, they face sexual harassment and professional discrimination. There have been frequent reports of sexual harassment against Afghan policewomen by their male counterparts, which have been highlighted by the international media time and again. Yet, there have been little or no efforts on part of the government to address the problem.
Women are sexually harassed primarily due to the prevalent belief that those females who join the police force do not have a good character. The women are socially marginalized as the profession is considered a taboo for women in Afghan culture.
Abdullah, a junior officer serving in the Afghan National Police, says: “The general attitude of the male police towards their female counterparts is not very welcoming. There are only a handful of males who are open to the idea of female integration in the police but the majority does not consider it a respectable profession for women. I would never want the women in my family to opt for this profession.”
Due to poor working conditions, along with opposition from society, most Afghan women are not comfortable with the idea of joining the police.
In addition to the negative and unwelcoming attitude of society as a whole towards female police officers, the reaction of their families is also very discouraging. In Afghan culture, allowing a female to go out of the house to work is considered highly distasteful.
“They (the family members) do not cooperate with us at all. When I joined the police force, there were all sorts of issues that my family raised. My mother was concerned that no one
In addition to the negative and unwelcoming attitude of society as a whole towards female police officers, the reaction of their families is also very discouraging.
will accept me as a wife if I join the police, as people think that women who join the police are loose,” says Lailuma, a policewoman.
The majority of the women who have joined the police come from big cities of Afghanistan. In smaller towns and cities, the very concept of a working woman is inconceivable. “Women who join the police are looked down upon because it’s a male-dominated society. Those who join the female police come from big cities. In smaller cities, it is completely unthinkable for a woman to become a police officer because of the stigma attached to the profession,” says Mirwais Jalalzai, an Afghan journalist.
Also, the job of female recruits in the police is extremely limited in scope, apart from some high-profile police officers who make it to the top, like the deceased Malalai Kakar. This is because the only work the Afghan policewomen are given is to go on search operations. In accordance with Afghan culture, it is considered highly disrespectful if the male policeman searches females. Similarly, women officers are needed to check women at the airports and other red zones.
“Sometimes, the police women have no other duties to perform on normal days, so they have to prepare and serve tea to everyone in the department. The job is also not monetarily rewarding,” informed Lailuma.
In view of the rampant cases of violence against women in Afghanistan, the presence of women policemen has become imperative for society. This is because most cases of violence against women go unreported. Because of cultural sensitivity, females cannot muster the courage to go and lodge a complaint in the presence of males. This specially pertains to the cases of sexual violence, which is a serious issue that Afghan women face. Although in 2009, the Afghan government promulgated the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW), it could not be sufficiently implemented partly because there was an acute dearth of female police officers to assist the victims.
Now, with the international forces leaving Afghanistan at the end of 2014, after which everything will be controlled by the Afghan government, it is feared that the women police force, which is already small in size, will further diminish due to social discouragement. However, if the Afghan government devises a plan to increase women’s representation in the ANP, as was proposed earlier by former president Hamid Karzai, the situation could become favorable for women who want to join the profession.