Burqa Blue to Belt Green

Women in the Afghan po­lice force serve against all odds.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sarah B. Haider The writer is a Karachi-based jour­nal­ist who fo­cuses on hu­man rights, con­flict and cross-cul­tural nar­ra­tives.

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.

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